Moldavia, Tatars and Cossacks I

When Bartolomeo Bruti travelled from Istanbul to Moldavia in the spring of 1580 he was not moving outside the Ottoman Empire, but he was entering a territory very different in kind from that empire’s directly governed heartland. Many histories of the Ottomans concentrate heavily on the heartland, because it was the central territories of Anatolia and the Balkans that were ruled in accordance with the classic ‘Ottoman system’, with the military-feudal estates of the spahis, the local kadis administering justice, the sancakbeyis governing their large districts, and the beylerbeyis governing groups of sancaks. Yet at the same time the Ottoman system of imperial rule, in its broadest sense, involved incorporating many other kinds of polity without directly administering them at all. The case of Dubrovnik has already been discussed; the three Romanian principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia were also self-governed; the Khanate of the Crimean Tatars, while in some ways acknowledging Ottoman suzerainty, was ruled by its own Khans; the corsair states of North Africa were essentially self-administering territories with rulers appointed from Istanbul; a dynasty of sharifs of Mecca continued to govern the Hijaz; in the Yemen the application of Ottoman rule was often little more than nominal; in parts of eastern Anatolia populated by Türkmen and Kurdish tribes there were hereditary sancaks held by traditional ruling families; and when the Ottomans acquired much of Georgia in the sixteenth century they mostly left local princes in place as tribute-paying vassals. Altogether, the Ottoman Empire was not a monolithic structure at all; the secret of its huge and rapid expansion, indeed, is to be found not only in its military strength but also in its adaptability to local conditions and traditions in the territories where it took power. As one modern historian has emphasized, some of the commonest normative phrases in the Ottoman official documents of the centuries of conquest are ‘customary practice’ and ‘the way things were done during the rule of the kings’.

In the case of Moldavia – a territory encompassing much of the modern country of Moldova, together with the north-eastern part of Romania that bears the same name – the process of absorption into the Ottoman Empire had been a very lengthy one. Its ‘voivods’ or princely rulers had paid tribute to the Sultan since 1455–6, and its two most valuable ports on the Black Sea coast, Kiliya (Rom.: Chilia; Trk.: Kili) and Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi (Rom.: Cetatea Alba; Trk.: Akkerman) had been seized by the Ottomans in 1484. The Ottoman conquest of much of Hungary, after the crushing defeat of the Hungarian army in 1526 at the Battle of Mohács, shifted the entire strategic balance in the region, strengthening the dominance of the Sultan over the Romanian principalities. In 1538 an ambitious maverick voivod of Moldavia, Petru Rareş, who defied Süleyman the Magnificent, was forced to flee by an invading Ottoman army. This was a turning-point in Moldavian history: a new voivod was brought in by the Sultan and installed with an Ottoman ceremony, and in the same campaign Süleyman seized the town of Bender (Rom.: Tighina; an important customs post on the river Dniester) and turned the entire coastal strip of Moldavia, including the two previously captured ports, into a directly ruled sancak. Ottoman attitudes had hardened since Mohács: whereas the tribute paid by Moldavia had originally been a kind of ransom payment for a temporary peace, it was now viewed as implying submission, like the poll-tax paid by non-Muslim subjects within the central territories of the empire. But although the military invasion of 1538 was sometimes used to imply that this was just another conquered territory, the legal-political status of Moldavia remained ambiguous for quite a long time. The whole issue is necessarily a murky one, as there is a three-way mismatch between the concepts available to the Moldavians themselves (who talked in Byzantine style about ‘bowing’, or ‘prostrating’ themselves, to an emperor), the Islamic legal theory of the Ottomans (which, in the tradition they followed, distinguished starkly between countries in the enemy ‘house of war’ and those within the ‘house of Islam’ – a territory such as Moldavia being rather obviously in neither), and Western European concepts, whether feudal (‘vassalage’) or modern (acknowledging ‘sovereignty’). What can be said is that from the mid-1560s onwards there was a definite shift in Istanbul towards seeing Moldavia and Wallachia as integral parts of the empire, within what were officially called its ‘well-protected domains’. Significantly, in 1572 Sultan Selim ordered the voivods of Moldavia to mint Ottoman coins for internal circulation. In 1574 there was a further tightening of the screw, after an anti-Ottoman revolt by the Voivod, Ioan cel Cumplit (‘John the Terrible’), was punitively suppressed by Ottoman forces. Uncertainty about the future of Poland, after its newly crowned French king absconded in that year, also made Istanbul anxious to strengthen its hold over Moldavia, Poland’s neighbour. Up until this time, the voivods had been drawn from those who belonged to, or at least claimed descent from, Moldavia’s own noble and princely families. Now the Ottomans imposed a member of the Wallachian ruling dynasty, Petru Şchiopul (‘Peter the Lame’), who had spent much of his time in Istanbul; he experienced instant unpopularity in Moldavia because he had no essential connection with that country at all.

By this stage, the degree of autonomy enjoyed by Moldavia and Wallachia was as follows. They had their own administration, their own Church and their own army. The voivod was appointed by the Sultan and could be dismissed by him, but would normally be chosen on the basis that he was of suitable lineage. He dispensed justice, and governed with his own divan or governing council – in Moldavia, an eight-member group which included leading noblemen and the Metropolitan, who was the head of the Orthodox Church in that country. There were no mosques in Moldavia, and no significant Muslim presence, beyond a few ‘scribes’ or officials seconded from Istanbul, a small guard of janissaries sent very exceptionally to assist Petru Şchiopul during his first, unpopular, period of rule, and at any given time a small number of Muslim merchants. (A sultanic decree in 1577 said that Muslims should not settle in Moldavia or Wallachia; they were forbidden to marry infidels there, and should leave when they had finished their business.) Moldavian merchants, on the other hand, were permitted to trade freely within the Ottoman Empire. Among the major duties of the voivod of Moldavia, the first was to pay the annual tribute: by the 1570s this was the equivalent of 35,000 ducats, but it underwent some fluctuations thereafter, with higher payments being promised by, or extorted from, incoming voivods, and unintended reductions following from debasements of the Ottoman coinage. Another duty was to supply troops when called upon to do so – reports in this period refer to 10,000 cavalry – though only for campaigns in the region; and at all times the voivod was naturally expected to repel any hostile forces entering his territory. He was also required to provide Istanbul with intelligence, both political and military. (A sultanic order to the Voivod in January 1566 said: ‘We have received a letter from you concerning what the spies in Germany have communicated about the gathering of the German army; in this situation do not cease to be vigilant, and make the necessary preparations against the enemy’s attack.’) The voivod was forbidden to conduct his own foreign policy – though most did keep up direct relations with their important non-Ottoman neighbours – and was not allowed to marry a foreigner without permission.

The duty to supply Istanbul with goods and provisions was less clearly defined, but it grew in importance during the sixteenth century. In wartime, Moldavia and Wallachia could simply be ordered to provide foodstuffs for the Ottoman army; for the Hungarian campaign in 1552, for instance, the Moldavian voivod was told to send 30,000 sheep, and the Wallachian one 3,000 oxen. But as the population of Istanbul grew during this century, rising from half a million in the 1550s to perhaps 700,000 by 1580, the demand for food from these fertile territories constantly increased. In 1566 the Sultan decreed that the Voivod of Moldavia must send 1,000 sheep and 1,000 head of cattle every month to the imperial capital. Official orders also went out for large quantities of grain, and for timber. Generally these products were paid for; the Ottoman system of celeps, state-appointed contractors who bought sheep locally and sent them to Istanbul, extended as far as Moldavia, where in 1591 they bought 24,500 from just one part of the country. (In the late 1580s an observer estimated that 100,000 Moldavian sheep went to Istanbul every year.) An attempt by the Sultan to impose the normal Ottoman tariff of fixed maximum prices was made, but then quickly abandoned, in the late 1570s. But the Ottomans did, in a sense, try to rig the market, by prohibiting the export of sheep, cattle and various other commodities – on the sometimes spurious basis that they were of military value – to non-Ottoman lands. No sooner had the newly appointed Voivod, Iancu Sasul (Bartolomeo Bruti’s candidate), arrived in the Moldavian capital of Iaşi, than he received a stiff decree from the Sultan complaining that the Moldavians were still engaging in the forbidden practice of selling sheep and cattle to Hungary and Poland – and, for good measure, that Iancu himself had just sent to Austria 24,000 head of cattle that he owed to creditors in Istanbul. Huge numbers of cattle were in fact sold via Poland; they were taken, on the hoof, as far as Venice, where their meat was prized more than any other. All the ‘boyars’ (nobles) of Moldavia traded livestock from their own estates, and the voivod was both the greatest landowner and the greatest trader of them all.

The wealth of these principalities came, in the first place, from their own tremendous fertility. Stefan Gerlach recorded a comment made by his ambassador in Istanbul in 1575: ‘today my gracious lord said that nowadays Moldavia and Wallachia are nothing other than the dairies of the sultans and pashas; and their princes, as they call themselves, are their dairy-farmers.’ Moldavia exported not only the ‘dairy’ products of meat, cheese and tallow, but also grain, honey, wax, fur, wine, beer, and huge quantities of fish: a Jesuit traveller in the 1580s was amazed to discover that you could buy a quantity of dried fish as big as a man, and the equivalent of a barrel of caviar, for just one scudo. The other source of Moldavia’s prosperity was the fact that it lay on an important trade route from Anatolia and Istanbul to Poland. Goods passed from Istanbul either overland to Galaţi or by boat to Kiliya, and were then taken via Iaşi to the important Polish border town of Kamyanets-Podilskyi (Pol.: Kamieniec Podolski). From there they went to Lviv (Pol.: Lwów; now in the Ukraine, like Kamyanets-Podilskyi, but then a Polish-Lithuanian city), and on either to Kraków, for further transit to southern Poland, Austria and the Czech lands, or to Poznań, for Germany, or to Gdańsk (Germ.: Danzig), for the Baltic region, or northwards to Brest, and thence either to Vilnius or even to Moscow. Spices formed an important part of this trade for much of the sixteenth century, coming from south-east Asia via Persia. Other high-value commodities from the east included pearls and jewels, and luxury textiles such as silk, mohair and camlet.

Muslim merchants brought many of these goods to Poland. They would then travel as far as Muscovy to spend the proceeds on furs, which were greatly prized by the Ottomans. Poland was the only Christian country to be quite thoroughly penetrated by Muslim traders; mostly their presence was accepted, though sometimes they were suspected of espionage. But there were other nationalities and religions taking part in this east–west trade: Armenians, Jews, Ragusans and Greeks. In Iaşi, the Moldavian capital, there was a significant Armenian colony. Jews and Armenians were prominent traders in Lviv, where, from the second half of the sixteenth century, there were resident Spanish Jews with close links to Jewish merchant families in Istanbul. In the 1580s the Polish Chancellor arranged for a number of Spanish and Portuguese Jews to move from Istanbul to the town of Zamość, which he had recently founded, to boost its trade. The omnipresent Ragusans were involved in this commerce, especially in Iaşi and on the Black Sea coast. And Greeks, not only from Galata, Chios (Ottoman territory from 1566) and Cyprus (Ottoman from 1570–1), but also from Venetian Crete, dominated the trade in strong and sweet red wines from the Mediterranean; these commodities, much valued during the cold Central European winters, came mostly via Moldavia. There were also a few Albanian traders; and some of the ‘Greeks’, from Pogon, may have been from the territory of present-day Albania, with Vlach – a language usefully similar to Romanian – as their mother tongue.

Much has been written about the so-called ‘closing’ of the Black Sea during this period. The phrase refers only to the discouragement or prohibition of non-Ottoman traders – who, in an earlier period when important Crimean ports had been run by the Genoese, had been frequent visitors. This process seems to have been a gradual one, beginning in the 1550s or 1560s and becoming formalized only at the end of the century. Istanbul’s growing hunger for the products of the Romanian lands – and of the Tatar Khanate – was the main cause; that meant that there was less and less for foreign traders to buy. And while the Moldavians were formally forbidden to sell various commodities to non-Ottomans on their north-western borders, it would have been illogical to allow non-Ottoman merchants to come and buy them on their eastern ones. Nevertheless, some foreign traders were active. Cretans who brought wine took back cargoes of hides and caviar; in the latter part of the century French ships sometimes penetrated the Black Sea; some Venetian merchants traded there using Ottoman ships or business partners; and the Ragusans, who had an important outpost on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, were often taking the goods they acquired to Ancona and other Italian ports. If foreign traders shied away from the area in the 1590s, that was as much to do with security concerns (thanks to a new Ottoman–Habsburg war, from 1593, and the growth of piracy by Ukrainian Cossacks) as with any prohibition. What must be emphasized, at all events, is that the ‘closing’ of the Black Sea did not mean stagnation. On the contrary, the decades up to the 1590s seem to have witnessed a positive boom in the trade that passed through Moldavia.

Thanks to taxes, customs dues and his own revenues as both producer and trader, the voivod had a large income, estimated in the 1580s at between half a million and a million thalers (333,000 to 666,000 ducats). Military and other state expenditure had to come out of this, in addition to the tribute to Istanbul, but the rulers of both Moldavia and Wallachia were still rich men; it is not surprising that Venetian jewel-sellers gathered around them like wasps round a jam-jar. The high revenues, together with the increasing appetite for cash at the Ottoman court, also explain the development of the practice – in which Bartolomeo Bruti took part so successfully – of merchants and other investors paying for the deposition of one voivod and the installation of another: so long as the new one remained in power for a few years, the investors could be confident of recouping their money handsomely. But this does raise the question of why these territories, which were of such economic and strategic importance to the Sultan, were not taken over and ruled directly. The threat of turning them into beylerbeyliks was deployed from time to time, and at a moment of crisis in wartime, in 1595, it was briefly carried out; but general Ottoman policy was firmly in favour of indirect rule. One important reason must have been the cost of garrisoning such a territory with janissaries; in Ottoman-ruled Hungary in the mid-century, for example, there were at least 20,000 occupation troops, who all had to be paid for. An interesting comment was made by the Imperial Ambassador in Istanbul, David Ungnad, in January 1578: noting a rumour that the former pasha of Timişoara would be declared beylerbeyi of Moldavia, he wrote that ‘in that case Poland would be well on the way to becoming an Ottoman possession; but it seems to me virtually unbelievable, because Moldavia is the main supplier to this city of meat, lard and other foodstuffs, and the population here would be partly or mostly deprived of them, if Moldavia were possessed by Ottomans’ – meaning that the Ottoman administration would consume more of the local production, and perhaps also that agricultural efficiency would go down. His remark about the implications for the Poles is perhaps even more important. Poland’s objections to the full Ottomanization of that principality were very strong: militarily, it required Moldavia to act as a buffer state, and in political terms the Poles wanted a neighbour that they could continue to influence and manipulate on its own separate basis.

Modern histories of the Ottoman Empire in this period, written mostly by West Europeans, tend to pay very little attention to Poland. There are various reasons for this: the dominance of West European sources and secondary literature is one, and the fact that Poland was at peace with the Ottomans from 1533 onwards is another. But Poland mattered very greatly to the Ottoman Sultans; that they maintained peaceful relations with it is itself testimony to that fact. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, which united the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into a single ‘commonwealth’, the Polish state covered a huge stretch of Europe from the Baltic coast to the borders of the Crimean Khanate, embracing most of present-day Poland, all of modern Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus, and the western half of what is now the Ukraine. Thanks to its constitution, with an elective monarchy and a fractious, veto-ridden parliament of nobles, it could not and did not undergo all the processes of centralization of power that were beginning to take place in several West European states; but with the help of its powerful regional lords it could raise large military forces, which in this period were mostly directed against its eastern rival, Russia. Poland mattered to Ottoman geopolitical strategy not only because of its size, but also because it was situated between two potentially or actually anti-Ottoman powers, Russia and the Holy Roman Empire. If it conquered Russia, or was taken over by the Habsburgs, or underwent any other kind of merging or close alliance with either of those, it would pose a huge threat to the security of the Ottoman Empire. As Giovanni Barelli commented in his intelligence report from Istanbul in 1575, the Ottomans thought that Poland, being ‘rather divided’, could be defeated by them in war. But they feared that this would force the Poles to choose the Russian Tsar as their king, which would ‘give excessive power to one of their [sc. the Ottomans’] chief foes’.

Hence the concern felt in Istanbul each time an election to the Polish crown was impending. The Sultan was happy to support Henri de Valois in 1573, in view of the long-standing Franco-Ottoman alliance and French hostility to the Habsburgs. However, when Henri decamped so abruptly soon after entering his kingdom in the following year, there were real fears that the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II, might obtain the Polish crown. The upper house of the Polish parliament did vote for him, but the lower one chose Stephen Báthory, the Catholic Hungarian Voivod of Transylvania, who cemented the deal by promising to marry the late king’s 52-year-old sister. Stephen became King of Poland in early 1576; one of the reasons why many nobles had voted for him was that they wished to avoid a war with the Ottoman Empire (a strategy which, so long as Russia remained the primary enemy, was logically required). The Sultan was very content with this election. Stephen had been a reliable vassal ruler in Transylvania; he was a known quantity, and the fact that his accession to the Polish crown created a personal union between Transylvania and Poland – even though he passed the administration of the former to his brother Christopher – gave Istanbul a pretext for demanding more influence over Poland. His election also had negative consequences for the onward march of the Counter-Reformation in Central Europe; although he was a sincere Catholic, Stephen Báthory did promise at his coronation to respect the Warsaw Confederation, a recent pledge of mutual toleration by all the major Christian confessions, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, in the Polish–Lithuanian commonwealth. The Papacy was seriously wrong-footed by Stephen’s accession to the throne, not least because it had openly backed his Habsburg rival. With some grinding of gears, it now began to concentrate on promoting peace between Poland and Russia, in order to create the conditions for an anti-Ottoman alliance. Gradually, too, it began to insinuate the idea that if Poland did join a war against the Sultan, it could take Moldavia as its prize.

Moldavia, Tatars and Cossacks II

What nearly brought Poland and the Ottoman Empire into armed conflict in this period was not the deliberate policy of the King, the Sultan or the Pope, but the unpredictable actions of two mutually hostile powers: the Tatars and the Cossacks. The Crimean Tatars were at least nominally subject to the Sultan. Although the Tatar Khans collected their own taxes and minted their own coins, they did acknowledge a higher power in Istanbul; a new Khan would be elected in the Crimea from the ruling Giray dynasty, but the election would then be submitted to the Sultan for approval, and the Ottomans did sometimes depose an uncooperative Khan in order to put a more compliant one in his place. Because of their military and marauding activities, the Tatars acquired a grim reputation in Russia and Central Europe as savage Asiatic nomads. The English Ambassador in Istanbul in the 1580s solemnly reported that ‘theie are borne blynde, openinge theire eyes the thirde daye after; a thinge peculier to them onlye, a brutishe people, open vnder the ayer lyvinge in cartes covered wth oxe hides’; all the adult men, he said, were ‘theeves and Robbers’. While it is true that Tatar herdsmen did travel in carts with their flocks during the summer months, at the core of the Tatars’ territory was a settled society, with agricultural estates (worked mostly by slaves they had captured). Their ruling family and nobility contained educated men: Gazi Giray II, who was installed by the Sultan in 1588, was a poet with a good knowledge of Arabic and Persian, and the Khans’ palace contained a well-stocked library. But Tatar light cavalry (typically, a force of 20–30,000 men when led by the Khan) was a much feared auxiliary element in the Ottomans’ European campaigns, and at other times large bands of Tatars would go raiding in Polish and Russian territory for slaves and other booty.

Opposing them in the south-eastern part of the Polish state was an official defence force of roughly 3,000 men, stretched out over an area more than 600 miles across. Its efforts, very inadequate in themselves, were supplemented by those of a much more informal fighting population, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, who were based in the marshy territory of the lower Dnieper river, south-east of Kiev (‘Zaporozhian’ is from a word meaning ‘below the rapids’). Like their equivalents on the southern Russian steppes, the Don Cossacks, these people developed enough of a socio-political system to form at least a loose military organization, but not enough to become a state-like entity. They enjoyed the protection and sponsorship of some powerful landowners in the region, and in normal circumstances were willing to cooperate in a broad defensive strategy with the official forces of the Crown. But their ‘pursuits’ of Tatar raiders could often turn into raiding expeditions of their own, openly supported by local lords and administrators who took their share of the booty. Twentieth-century attempts to portray them as fighting either against feudalism or for national liberation are unconvincing; raiding was primarily an economic activity, and all classes could have an interest in it. The Tatar bands not only paid a tax on their booty to the Khan, but also, in some cases, had merchant investors who would give them horses on credit in return for half of the spoils. On the Polish side, Crown soldiers would sometimes provoke raids by the Tatars and then take care to intercept them only on their way home, when they were laden with goods (which could then be appropriated, or returned to the original owners for a fee). But the larger Cossack expeditions could also have a political dimension, whether by design, as their local protectors flexed their muscles vis-à-vis the Polish government, or by unintended consequence.

To the modern eye, such raiding, even on a large scale, seems like a regrettable and peripheral phenomenon, something to be understood as a transgression of the normal system, not a component of it. Yet if one looks at all the frontier zones between Christendom and the Ottoman world in this period, from the Dnieper marshes in the north to the maritime quasi-frontier of the Mediterranean in the south, one begins to see that it was very much part of the system. On both sides of the lengthy Ottoman–Habsburg border, local auxiliary forces grew up for which raiding was a constant feature of military and economic life. In the north-eastern corner of the Adriatic a small but highly active population of ‘Uskoks’, Slavic refugees and adventurers who theoretically acted as frontier troops for the Habsburgs, caused real harm to Ottoman trading interests – and much damage to Venetian–Ottoman relations – by their corsairing and piracy. The corsairs of the Albanian coast, based first in Vlorë and Durrës and later also in Ulcinj, preyed on much Christian shipping. And in the Mediterranean, the corsairs of North Africa were pitted against another group for which raiding was a central activity, the Knights of Malta. In all these cases, booty was either essential to the economy or (in the case of Malta) a vital motive for offensive action; this in itself implied that these societies were enmeshed in a larger pattern of economic interests, as they often depended on merchants coming from elsewhere to buy the goods they had seized. Of course, organized predation of this kind was not just a border phenomenon. Communities based at least partly on raiding, or on raiding combined with a sort of protection racket, could operate against domestic targets as well as foreign ones; in the northern Albanian mountains, a group of clans led by the warlike Kelmendi developed such a practice, and other bellicose populations such as the Himariots and the Maniots may at times have been fairly indiscriminate in their choice of prey. But the advantage of a frontier was that it provided a ready-made legitimation for all activities of this kind, so long as they were conducted against the other side; and even more legitimation was available when that frontier lay between two religions.

A whole range of these raiding societies thus existed, from states and state-like entities (Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Malta, the Crimean Tatar Khanate) to broad regional forces (the Cossacks, the ‘Grenzer’ communities of the Habsburg borders and their Ottoman counterparts) and small corsairing groups such as the Uskoks of Senj and their Albanian rough equivalents. Contemporaries sensed some of the similarities between them; for instance, the German writer on Ottoman affairs Johannes Leunclavius remarked that the Cossacks resembled both the Uskoks and the Morlachs (the Vlach and Slav fighters used on both sides of the Habsburg–Ottoman frontier), and Ottomans described the Tatars and the North African corsairs as the Sultan’s two ‘wings’. Modern historians seldom consider all these raiding entities together, perhaps because they do not fit the standard model of international history, based on the direct interactions of unit states, which the present naturally projects onto the past. Nevertheless, they should be regarded as an important element in the picture; one might think of them as the ‘irregular powers’, conjoined in a complex system of inter-power relations with the regular ones. Often they caused serious trouble not only to their enemies but also to their sponsors. Why did the latter tolerate them? Some parts of the answer are clear: they provided a relatively cheap form of permanent frontier defence; they became valuable auxiliaries in wartime; in peacetime their raiding activities honed the martial skills of large numbers of men; their constant probing of the enemy (or potential enemy) revealed points of weakness, while being covered by a degree of ‘deniability’; and up to a certain point, the harm they caused by their offensive actions could be useful, as the other side might offer concessions of various kinds in order to have them called off. All these points are valid, but to list them like this risks giving the impression that the irregular powers functioned as mere instruments, the tools of their sponsors’ regular power-politics. And that would be to ignore the fact that they often had interests and policies of their own, to which their protector-powers were sometimes forced, with great reluctance, to adapt.

The activities of the Tatars and Cossacks bedevilled relations between Poland and the Ottoman Empire, and sometimes carried war and rebellion into the heart of the Moldavian state. In 1575 and again in 1577, Polish territory underwent large Tatar raids, in retaliation for Cossack attacks. The Voivod of Moldavia at this time was Petru Şchiopul, the Wallachian prince who had been imposed by the Sultan in 1574 in place of the rebellious Ioan cel Cumplit. A man claiming to be Ioan’s brother, known as Ioan Potcoavă (‘John Horseshoe’ – he broke them with his bare hands), raised a Cossack army and invaded Moldavia, seizing the capital, Iaşi, in late 1577; he then withdrew to Polish territory, where the authorities arrested and executed him, but in the following year two more Cossack invasions took place under other leaders. During 1578 the Sultan warned Stephen Báthory that if the Cossacks were not restrained, he would invade Poland. Stephen’s attempt to meet this challenge by setting up a small official Cossack army and giving it strict instructions not to attack Moldavia or any Ottoman territory was largely symbolic; it staved off the threatened invasion, but it did not give him real control of these warriors. In late 1579 a local Polish grandee organized a Cossack attack on the Ottoman fortress of Akkerman (Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi). This formed the immediate context of the Sultan’s decision to replace Petru Şchiopul; for Petru was regarded as pro-Polish, and therefore not the right person to develop a more hard-line policy against the Poles. Also, because he was a foreigner from Wallachia, Moldavian boyars had petitioned at Istanbul for him to be replaced by Iancu Sasul; those boyars represented, in effect, an anti-Polish party, and granting their wishes would strengthen their position. So it was that political circumstances, as well as the large payments organized by Bartolomeo Bruti, brought Iancu to the throne.

Iancu was generally believed to be an illegitimate son of Petru Rareş, the voivod who had been driven out by Süleyman the Magnificent in 1538 (but later reinstated); and he was called ‘Sasul’, ‘the German’, because his mother was the wife of a German leather-worker in the city of Braşov. Since the administrative records of the Moldavian government have not survived from this period, it is impossible to give any detailed and objective account of his rule. Instead, the picture is dominated by the later narrative of the Moldavian chronicler Grigore Ureche, who, writing in the 1640s, had nothing good to say about Iancu Sasul. According to Ureche, he introduced an unheard-of tithe of all cattle in the country, and this provoked a major revolt in the eastern province of Lăpuşna, which was crushed by the Moldavian army. Iancu was an evil man who ‘did not love the Christian religion’; he raped the wives of boyars, and several leading nobles consequently fled into exile. This account seems rather simplistic. We know that Iancu performed some routine acts of religious piety, donating numbers of Gypsy labourers, for example, to Orthodox monasteries – though the fact (if it is one) that he converted to Catholicism before his death may have tainted him in Moldavian eyes. It is indeed true that some leading nobles and ecclesiastics fled to Poland, but their reasons may have been primarily political, as they represented a pro-Polish lobby to which Iancu was opposed. He had a different policy which would, however, have pleased the Ottomans even less, had they known about it: from the start he was secretly in touch with the Habsburgs through their military commander in Upper Hungary. Towards the end of his rather brief rule in Moldavia he was apparently trying to acquire an estate in Habsburg territory, seeing it as a bolthole in which to evade another round of internal exile in the Ottoman Empire; but there may have been a larger strategic aspect to his cultivating these connections. When the Poles found out about them, in 1582, they were quick to inform Istanbul.

Stephen Báthory lobbied hard to get Iancu deposed; in the summer of 1582, when he despatched an envoy to a grand festivity in Istanbul celebrating the circumcision of the Sultan’s son, he sent with him, as a present to the Sultan, two captive Tatar princes. This magnanimous gesture, plus a large under-the-counter payment to Sinan Pasha, had the desired effect. Later that summer, when news reached Iancu that he was about to be recalled, the Voivod gathered all the cash reserves of the Moldavian treasury and headed for his Habsburg refuge. Unfortunately his route had to pass first through Poland. He was arrested there, and, after a brief detention, executed on the King’s orders in late September, before the Ottoman çavuş could arrive to take him back to Istanbul. Stephen Báthory offered various justifications for this: Iancu had opened his letters to the Sultan when Polish couriers had passed through Moldavia, and had added spurious passages to them; he had burnt down villages in Polish territory; and Poles who had sought justice from him had been beaten and imprisoned. (The papal nuncio in Poland also wrote, perhaps just repeating a standard line, that Iancu had made himself ‘utterly hateful’ to his people by violating their women.) Stephen did not mention the huge quantity of cash – between 400,000 and a million ducats, as rumour had it – which he expropriated. Nor did the Sultan make much fuss about that; a resetting of Ottoman–Polish relations had just taken place, and it was a sign of the Ottoman willingness to be conciliatory that the new Voivod of Moldavia was, once again, Petru Şchiopul.

Not much is known about Bartolomeo Bruti’s life in Moldavia during these years. As we have seen, a French ambassadorial despatch stated in 1580 that he was granted a boyar’s estate and an income of 3,000 ducats from the customs dues of a port – which was presumably Galaţi, the only significant port left to Moldavia, on the northern bank of the Danube. That despatch’s statement that he was also made general of the army might seem implausible, in view of Bartolomeo’s total lack of military experience; yet in January 1582 he was indeed joint commander of the Moldavian army, with the boyar Condrea Bucium, when it fought a major battle to crush the rebels of Lăpuşna. Bartolomeo had the official position of ‘postelnic’, meaning seneschal or court chamberlain, while Bucium was the grand ‘vornic’ or count palatine of Lower Moldavia; neither was ‘hatman’ (general of the armed forces), but it seems that Bartolomeo was in effect the senior minister for external affairs, and Bucium for internal ones. As the Postelnic, Bartolomeo also held the prefecture of Iaşi, the capital city, and judged its citizens. These honours – which depended above all on the fact that he was Iancu’s personal link to Sinan Pasha – represented an extraordinary transformation in his fortunes, from the ill-paid trainee dragoman and neglected underground agent of the previous years.

Bartolomeo must have found his new conditions strange as well as exhilarating. He was now in an overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox country, and its language, Romanian, would have taken some time to learn, even though his knowledge of Italian gave him a good head-start. This was a very traditional society, a far cry from the Venetianized city communities of the Adriatic that were familiar to him, with their statutes and municipal rights; the Moldavian towns and their surrounding villages were regarded as the personal property of the voivod, and the laws were customary and unwritten. Whilst the dress of the voivod and his courtiers was partly Ottoman in style, with richly decorated cloaks like caftans, the hierarchy and ceremonies derived from the Byzantine tradition. In 1574 a French traveller, commenting on court life in Iaşi, wrote that ‘they honour their voivods like God, and drink excessively’ – though a few years later Stefan Gerlach assured a friend that the Moldavians were at least more civilized than the Wallachians. In the late 1580s a Jesuit would write about Moldavia that ‘literary writing is not held in esteem there, nor is it taught’; but he added that ‘the people are excellent and talented, and shrewd rather than simple.’ The population was quite mixed, especially in the towns; the merchant community included, as we have seen, both Armenians and Greeks (some of whom, especially those from Chios, were Roman Catholic), and Ragusans were active as tax- and customs-farmers. There were Protestant Germans, Hungarians and Hussites; and although the Jews had been expelled in 1579 at the insistence of Christian merchants, some seem to have returned under Iancu Sasul. There were also Albanians – villagers, traders and others. In 1584 the Jesuit Antonio Possevino would report from Poland that ‘the Voivod of Moldavia’s guard consists of 400 Trabants [a Central European word for bodyguard], who are Hungarian, and 50 Albanian and Greek halbardiers, who live like Muslims.’ So Bartolomeo Bruti would have found some people to talk to in his native tongue. But in any case he was not leading a solitary life. In these early years, at least, his wife Maria was with him. They had a son, probably within less than a year of their arrival in Moldavia, and had him baptized in Kamyanets-Podilskyi, the nearest town with a Catholic bishop. The boy was christened Antonio Stanislao – the first name honouring Bartolomeo’s father, and the second presumably paying respect to an influential Polish godfather.

In 1582 Bartolomeo Bruti went to Istanbul as the Voivod’s envoy to attend the festivities for the circumcision of the future Mehmed III. Public celebrations of such events, and of the accessions of new sultans, were not uncommon, but this was the most elaborate and extravagant that had ever been seen, lasting more than 50 days from early June to late July; half a million akçes (more than 8,000 ducats) had been set aside for staging it, invitations were sent to rulers in such distant places as Morocco and Uzbekistan, and the preparations took several months. It is not hard to guess the underlying reason for a jamboree which entertained much of the population of Istanbul. The Persian war, begun in 1578, was proving intractable, costly and increasingly unpopular; a large and distracting boost to morale, including displays of deference by foreign powers, was greatly to be desired. Certainly, nothing larger or more distracting could have been imagined. In the early stages of the festivities, senior pashas and the ambassadors of Muslim and Christian rulers presented lavish gifts. For the viziers and beylerbeyis, this was the most demanding instance of the whole Ottoman cult of gift-giving. Sinan Pasha presented the Sultan with fine horses, large quantities of luxury cloth, a gold-illuminated Koran and a golden bowl encrusted with rubies and turquoises, while giving the Sultan’s son a bejewelled golden sword, six male slaves, three horses and four illuminated books. The gifts of some foreign states were barely as lavish as that. The King of Poland sent quantities of highly prized Russian sable fur; the Venetian envoy, Giacomo Soranzo, brought 8,000 ducats’ worth of gold, silver and silk; and Iancu Sasul’s presents consisted of a silver fountain and other pieces of silverwork, to the value of 3,000 ducats.

The celebrations were held in the Hippodrome, which had been specially fitted up for the occasion, with a three-storey wooden stand for distinguished guests. Christians, such as the Ragusan envoys and Bartolomeo, were placed in the bottom storey. For the first few weeks the formal present-givings were interspersed with entertainments, involving athletes, fighting animals (the fight between a boar and three lions was almost won by the boar), rope-dancers, musicians and others; one jaded French observer, Jean Palerne, found the music ‘tuneful enough to make donkeys dance’. Sugar animals were paraded, including life-sized elephants and camels, and in the evenings the crowds were given free food and lavish firework displays. Then there were military performances (put on, Palerne noted, by Sinan, who wanted ‘to be recognized as a great warlord’), with realistic-seeming battles involving mock-castles; the Christian castles, which were triumphantly overrun, had squealing pigs inside them. In the second week of June the processions of the Istanbul guilds began, with elaborate displays, sometimes on large carriages or floats, demonstrating or symbolizing their work. More than 200 guilds took part, including nailsmiths, bucket-sellers, javelin-makers, pickle-sellers, caftan-makers, silk-spinners, tart-bakers and snake-charmers. On the helva-makers’ carriage a man made helva in a huge cauldron; on the barbers’, a barber shaved customers while standing on his head; the Jewish gunpowder-makers’ float had a powder-mill, and a man constantly igniting little explosions of powder against his bare skin. (The helva-makers also amused the crowd by trying to blow up a live rabbit with fireworks.) The mirror-makers dressed in clothes made out of pieces of mirror, while the manufacturers of coloured paper had 130 apprentices dressed in coloured paper. When they reached the Sultan the guildsmen gave him their own presents, both symbolic (giant shoes, paper tulips as tall as trees) and real: the guild of bird-catching pedlars solemnly presented two vultures, ten partridges and 100 sparrows. In return the Sultan conferred significant cash presents on the major guilds, and threw handfuls of coins at their apprentices. After that there were more military entertainments, with Albanian horsemen jousting at each other with lances; this was not mere play-acting, as several horses were killed in the process. Morale was boosted both by processions of genuine Christian captives from the Habsburg frontier, and by mass episodes of Christian Ottoman subjects, especially Greeks and Albanians, volunteering – to the dismay of Western observers – to convert to Islam. Everything went well from the Ottoman point of view, until the very last days of the festival, when serious fighting broke out between some of the Sultan’s soldiers. It started with some young spahis (cavalrymen) who were found in a brothel by a janissary patrol led by the subaşı of Istanbul. Violence began when they resisted the round-up of prostitutes, and quickly turned into public fighting between much larger numbers of spahis and janissaries. Two of the spahis were killed. Sinan Pasha blamed the ağa (commander) of the janissaries, Ferhad Pasha, and dismissed him; Ferhad would become a redoubtable rival to Sinan thereafter.

Bartolomeo presumably enjoyed the festivities, and the experience of rubbing shoulders with West European dignitaries who would have paid scant regard to him a few years earlier. But the most important element in this visit would have been his meetings with his relative Sinan Pasha, at which the future of the Voivod of Moldavia must have been discussed. Seven years later the papal nuncio in Poland would write, on the basis of what Bartolomeo had told him, that ‘because Iancu did not observe the conditions he had promised, and did not pay the tribute he had promised to Sinan Pasha, by whose means he had been appointed voivod, Bruti in Istanbul arranged for Iancu to be deposed, and for this prince Petru, the current ruler, to be appointed.’ That a failure to make the special personal payments to Sinan was a factor is easily imagined, but the claim that Bartolomeo ‘arranged’ the deposition sounds like self-aggrandizement; and it is difficult to believe that Bartolomeo, of all people, would have promoted the reinstatement of Petru Şchiopul, who could reasonably have been expected to bear a deep grudge against him for his previous dismissal. The decision was surely taken by Sinan, who obliged Petru to retain Bartolomeo’s services. Petru Şchiopul’s investiture took place in Istanbul on 28 August 1582, and he travelled to Moldavia with Bartolomeo a couple of weeks later. The Venetian bailo reported that Petru made a grand exit from Istanbul with an escort of more than 1,000 cavalry. He also wrote – again, surely on the basis of what Bartolomeo had said – that Petru was reinstated thanks to Bartolomeo’s intercession; he added, significantly, that Bartolomeo went with him ‘and will have the most important and most valuable position, having been warmly recommended by the Grand Vizier, who told him that whether he stays a long time in office will depend on the good treatment he gives to Bruti’.

The Russo-Turkish War (1811)

Ottoman Army Early 19th Century.

Portrait of Mikhail I. Kutuzov. G. Dawe, 1829. After Count Kamensky died in April 1811, Kutuzov was appointed commander-in-chief of the Danube army. Several months were dedicated to preparation, and on June 22 (July 4), 1811, the Russian army thoroughly defeated the outnumbered Turkish army (15 to 20,000 against 60,000) near Ruse (Turkish: Rusçuk). Soon, another part of the Turkish army was blocked and then captured near Slobozia.

Hostilities had opened between Russia and Turkey soon after Russia and Austria had been humiliated at Austerlitz in 1805. The following year Sultan Selim III had deposed the pro-Russian Hospodars of Wallachia and Moldavia (parts of modern-day Romania), whilst France occupied Austrian Dalmatia. This seriously threatened what was known as the ‘Danubian Principalities’, consisting of modern-day Romania and Serbia. Russia looked upon these areas as a safeguard against any possible attack on Russian territory from the Balkans. Fearing such an attack, Russia promptly advanced a force of some 40,000 men into the principalities to deny them to any others, particularly France. The sultan’s reaction was decisive, declaring war and blocking off the use of the Dardanelles to Russian ships. The subsequent actions of Admiral Seniavin and his victory over the Turkish fleet at Athos, and the deposing of Selim III have already been covered.

The Turkish armies had not performed any better than their fleet. Count Gudovich with 7,000 men had destroyed a Turkish force numbering no fewer than 20,000 men at Arpachai on 18 June. A vast Turkish army advancing into Wallachia was also defeated at Obilesti three days later, on 21 June 1807, by General Mikhail Miloradovich, with just over 4,000 troops.

The war might well have petered out at this point had not the Treaty of Tilsit enabled the Russians to transfer large numbers of their troops from central Europe to Bessarabia, bringing the size of their army up to 80,000 men. However, this sizeable force, under the ageing Field Marshal Prozorovsky, achieved virtually nothing, losing great numbers of troops in a vain attempt to storm the fortress of Brailov. Eventually, in August 1809, Prozorovsky was superseded by Prince Bagration, who immediately crossed the Danube with the army and laid siege to Silistra, but abandoned the attempt on the advance of a Turkish relieving army.

Hostilities were renewed in 1810 with Count Nikolay Kamensky (who had superseded Bagration) defeating these Turkish reinforcements and again attacking Silistra, which finally surrendered on 30 May. Kamensky tried to take a number of other fortresses without success, which cost him a great deal of time and huge numbers of casualties, but he did succeed in defeating a 40,000-strong Turkish army at Vidin on 26 October. In February 1811 Kamensky fell ill and died, leaving his forces under the command of General Louis Andraut de Langeron. But for all of this fighting, and despite numerous successes, Russia was no closer to a final victory.

Relations were also beginning to sour between Napoleon and Alexander over Russia’s clear disregard for the Continental System,1 and therefore Alexander appointed his favourite, General Mikhail Kutuzov, to command his forces in the south with clear orders to force Turkey to the peace table as quickly as possible. Kutuzov astounded everyone, promptly evacuating Silistra and beginning a retreat northward. The Turks took confidence from this manoeuvre and an army of 60,000 men was amassed at the fortress of Shumla. Kutuzov’s army, numbering some 46,000, finally stood against the Turks at Rousse on 22 June 1811 and defeated the Turkish hordes. Kutuzov, however, did not take advantage of his victory, but rather ordered his army to retire once again into Bessarabia. Alexander was livid at this retreat and demanded an explanation, but Kutuzov simply said nothing.

In late October 1811 the Turkish army under Lal Aziz Ahmet Pasha, of around 70,000 men, began to cross the Danube. Some 50,000 men crossed the river, whilst the remaining reserve of 20,000 remained on the eastern bank guarding the stores and food supplies. On the night of 2 November 1811 a large Russian cavalry force crossed the Danube and launched a terrible attack on the Turkish reserve, destroying it completely and slaying around 9,000 men. The main Turkish army was now stranded on the western bank and virtually surrounded; even more seriously, all their supplies had also been captured. At this point Kutuzov launched an all-out attack. He surreptitiously allowed the Pasha to escape, knowing that the Grand Vizier was forbidden from ever taking part in any peace negotiations. With him gone, Kutuzov sought negotiations and after some procrastination peace was signed with Turkey on 28 May 1812, Russia gaining Bessarabia by the treaty.

Peace with Turkey was urgently needed as Napoleon had spent the spring of 1812 in drawing troops from every corner of Europe to congregate in Poland, to form the largest army the world had ever seen. Napoleon was about to invade Russia; nobody knew how it would end at that moment, but that decision was going to change everything. As the campaign season arrived in 1812, few realised how momentous the following six months would be in world history and how rapidly the balance of power in Europe would change. This was as true in the Mediterranean as anywhere else.

But we cannot ignore another war that broke out that summer; it had been brewing for some time and had the potential to seriously hamper British efforts against Napoleon. For years the rapidly expanding American merchant fleet had been complaining loudly against the British insistence on their right to board American ships and to remove any British men found on board. This high-handed approach had caused serious resentment, particularly when American sailors were wrongly accused of being British and were taken off to serve in the Royal Navy. In reality, there was wrong on both sides. Whilst the Americans claimed that some 5,000 American sailors were taken into the British navy, it also has to be admitted that America’s merchant fleet had grown so rapidly, acting as a neutral carrier, that they had enticed some 10,000 British merchant seamen to join their ships for higher wages. It is also true that numerous American ships had been detained by the British for breaking the rules on supplying materials to Napoleon’s Europe, but again it was true that French frigates and privateers had been equally guilty of capturing hundreds of American merchant ships. Indeed, the American government became so upset with Britain and France over these issues that it contemplated going to war with both at the same time! However, sanity prevailed and on 12 June 1812 President Maddison declared war on Britain.

This involved a number of embarrassing single-ship defeats for the British navy and an unsuccessful American invasion of Canada. But even during the height of this war, American merchant ships continued to be granted licences to ship badly needed grain to Spain to feed Wellington’s army. However, this war had virtually no effect on the war in the Mediterranean, except for the capture of an odd American merchant vessel to boost prize money.

The research paper examines the attempts by the Ottoman and Persian Empires to destabilize the situation in the North-Western Caucasus and Transcaucasia on the eve and during the Patriotic War of 1812. It focuses on countermeasures against the Turkish plans, taken by peaceful Circassian princes and Russian regional administration. With the use of new archival documents, we were able to reconstruct the picture of Circassian raids on the Russian territory in 1812—1814. The paper also retrace the picture of the Kakheti uprising and its orchestrating process considering Napoleon’s invasion of the Russian Empire. The sources used to prepare the work include archival documents stored at the State Archives of the Krasnodar Krai, Krasnodar, Russia, and the Central State Historical Archives of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia. A considerable part of the archival material has never been published before. In conclusion, the authors note that both Persia and Turkey strove to widely leverage the war between Russia and France to their own advantage. The consolidated efforts of the Russian administration thwarted the attempt by Turkish intelligence agents in Circassia to use the anti-Russian Circassian militia in combat operations against Russia. At the same time, Persia achieved impressive progress in destabilizing the situation in Transcaucasia. The uprising was led by Georgian Tsarevich (An heir apparent of a tsar) Alexander, and the region of the uprising comprised Kakheti. In the area, Russian troops had small garrisons that were to protect Kakheti and central Georgia from Lezgin attacks. It was them who fell victim to insurgents. In terms of the number of casualties among the Russian army soldiers, the uprising in Kakheti in 1812 can be described as the deadliest incident in Transcaucasia in the 19th century. At the same time, the Treaty of Bucharest and Treaty of Gulistan, which ended the Russo-Turkish (1806—1812) and Russo-Persian (1804—1813) wars, were the first diplomatic acts that legally formalized a fait accompli — the annexation of a large part of Transcaucasia to Russia.

Source: Aleksandr A. Cherkasov, Larisa A. Koroleva, Sergei Bratanovskii, Nugzar Ter-Oganov (2019). The Russian-Turkish and Russian-Persian Front Line on the Eve of and During the Patriotic War of 1812. Bylye Gody. Vol. 52. Is. 2: 585-595


Venetian Galley

Bernard Doumerc

In 1302, the Venetian government implemented a revision of ‘the corrections and additions’ to the Arsenal regulations.8 This action was necessary to encourage the full development of the technological revolution that would maximise the Republic’s naval potential. A short time later, between 1304 and 1307, the Arsenale Novo was created.9 By 1325 every sector of maritime activity had been reformed. The speed with which the authorities decided, the promotion of utilitas favourable to the public good, and a real will to innovate gave expression to a powerful movement toward a goal of dominating the sea. In 1301, the Senate declared that it was necessary to arm a permanent squadron for the protection of ‘the Gulf’ (the Adriatic Sea). The cramped port facilities in the lagoon led to a natural expansion with new basins in the Arsenale Novo.10 This expansion of facilities was completed by the creation of naval bases at Pola and Pore? in Istria. Until the final phase of renovation at the end of the fifteenth century, this naval establishment was the pride of Venice’s oligarchy. In 1435, the Senate declared, ‘our Arsenal is the best in the world’ and encouraged visits by the famous and powerful as they journeyed toward Jerusalem. This evocation of the labour, ingenuity, and efficiency of the seamen of Venice resounded all across Europe and flattered the pride of the subjects of the Serenissima. The myth of Venice, forged by the political powers around the Arsenal, helped to elicit respect, fear, and effective administration.11

It is necessary to pause for a moment to consider this assertion of a clever political will that quickly adapted to circumstances. In looking at the overall situation in the Mediterranean basin it is clear that by the late thirteenth century the Venetian position had weakened. In 1261, a Byzantine–Genoese coalition took control of Constantinople and a part of Romania that, up until that time, had been controlled by the Franks and Venetians. Meanwhile, the Republic relentlessly defended Crete, the coastal bases of the Peloponnese, and the important islands of the Aegean Sea.12 In 1291 the fall of Acre marked the final defeat of the Crusaders in the Latin States of the Levant. It appears that the Venetians had already begun a withdrawal toward the west when, in 1274, Doge Lorenzo Tiepolo prohibited investment in agricultural estates on Terra Ferma ‘to oblige the Venetians to take an interest in naval affairs’. A little later, in 1298, their perpetual rivals, the Genoese, entered the Adriatic to support the Hungarians with an attack on Venetian possessions in Dalmatia.13 Naval war within the confined spaces of the Adriatic forced the government to undertake a major reform effort to confront this threat from the enemies of the Republic. This was more than a territorial conflict. It was also an economic war that engulfed the entire Mediterranean basin. The desire to capture commerce and to dominate distribution networks for goods placed great importance on the ability to keep fleets at sea. The last phase in the creation of Venice’s magnificent Arsenal took place between about 1473 and 1475. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, fear seized the Venetians who dreaded a naval assault on their colonial possessions. The defence of the stato da mar was undertaken by reinforcing the defences of the system of naval bases. First, Negroponte and Nauplia, and then, the Arsenal of Candia, an important strong point on Crete, were completely renovated between 1467 and 1470. At home, in Venice, momentous changes in circumstances created a need to augment the Republic’s naval forces. Henceforth, fierce naval war against admirals in the pay of the Ottomans brought unaccustomed reverses. In this context, the senate asked Giacomo Morosini (called el zio, ‘Uncle’) to prepare plans for an extension of the Arsenal in 1473. With an additional eight hectares added to its area, it became the greatest shipyard in Europe and ‘the essential foundation of the state’.14

By demonstrating its undeniable concern for optimising the financial and technical resources devoted to naval construction, the government showed the way for the whole people. The authorities obtained indispensable support from all those social groups whose destiny was tied to the vigour of the city’s maritime activity. At the same time, the desires of those groups corresponded to the announced public policy of giving priority to the naval forces. It is not true that a permanent and effective naval force did not appear until the sixteenth century.15 A navy existed in Venice from the fourteenth century. As described above, the patrol squadron charged with policing the Adriatic was at the heart of that force, but there were other available units. First among them were the galleys armed by the port cities that had gradually come to be included in the stato da mar. In the event of conflict these Dalmatian, Albanian, Greek, and Cretan cities were required, by the terms of their submission to Venice, to provide one or more galleys for the naval draft due to the metropolis. There are many instances of these drafts. One example is sufficient to indicate their nature.16 During the conflict against the Turks during the 1470s, the Arsenal could not quickly provide the thirty galleys demanded by the Senate. All the subject cities of the Empire were required to contribute to the fleet. Crete provided eleven galleys, four came from the occupied ports of Puglia, two from Corfu, eleven from Dalmatia (three from Zara, two from Sebenico, one each from Cattaro, Lesina, Split, Pago, Arba, and Trau). Cadres of loyal ‘patriots’ known to Venetian administrators leavened the crews gathered from these various ports. Neither the ardour of these fighters from ‘overseas’ nor their fidelity to St Mark was taken for granted. The Senate did reward loyal commanders such as Alessandro de Gotti of Corfu, Francesco Chachuni of Brindisi, and Jacopo Barsi of Lesina.

The second Venetian trump card was the initiation of an unprecedented system for the administration of sea-borne trade. This system provided a formidable tool, designed to respond to the needs of la ventura, of commerce, laying a foundation for a dominating and expansionist people. These innovative procedures put in place by the ruling oligarchy were developed to take advantage of an exceptional organisation that would raise Venice into the first rank of Mediterranean naval powers. During the first twenty years of the Trecento, there was a period of maturation punctuated by different attempts to develop a system of navigation that eventually evolved into the galley convoys known as mude. Having achieved this objective with the consensus of all the participants in the financial and business world, it was then necessary to create an efficient system of management. Even if maritime trade was prosperous, it remained fragile and subject to unforeseeable risks. It was always possible that a major conflict with the Genoese or the Catalans, or even a brief outbreak of extreme violence due to piracy, might place the whole economic structure of the Republic at risk.17 Meanwhile, in the city of Venice as well as in the small island market towns of the lagoon, in the warehouses and in the tradesmen’s shops or the craftsmen’s booths, men pursued gain, but they did so without an overall plan and without looking for any really consistent method in their approach. Around the middle of the fourteenth century Venetian patricians came to realise the necessity of undertaking ambitious measures to surmount the major obstacles to a rational exploitation of the merchant fleets by making major changes in their organisation. Perhaps the terrifying War of Chioggia (1379–81) accelerated the rapid development of this concept. The patriciate instituted regulations providing for general communal equipping of merchant fleets to offset the disadvantages of the privately outfitted trading expeditions that had been paralysed during this long conflict. It is clear that the implementation of this new system affected all of the Republic’s economic and social structures. Progress toward fully implementing this model for the unique and exemplary management of Venetian maritime potential took place only slowly, but it was to dominate the Republic’s actions at sea up to the middle of the sixteenth century.18

The founding act of this state-controlled regulation was the Ordo galearum armatarum, decreed on 8 December 1321. It concerned both the galleys and sailing cargo ships. The experimental phase lasted until the end of the Venetian– Genoese war of 1379. The cooperation of several outfitters was needed for a merchant convoy so the galleys received collective financing. This innovative policy originated after the fall of Acre in 1291. The entrepreneurial merchants, far from pulling back from risky undertakings, soon became involved in the conquest of the Atlantic routes to Flanders and England. This rapid expansion encouraged new initiatives, sometimes hesitant and disorganised during the first half of the Trecento, then coordinated by the public authorities under the careful supervision of the city’s aristocratic patriciate. Opening navigation routes toward the west, along with intensification of maritime relations with the Levant, placed the keys to international trade in Venetian hands after 1350. They also profited from a remarkably favourable position in relation to the Alpine passes leading to northern Europe. By this time the system of auctioning the charters of galleys belonging to the Commune had been definitively established. To avoid a destructive confrontation between the authorities and the merchants (even though at Venice it is sometimes difficult to discern a difference between the two groups) the state asked that the Black Sea convoy be managed according to this new principle. After some years it was adopted for all navigation routes, to the general satisfaction of both groups. Besides the galley convoys, there was also a whole sector of maritime endeavour involving sailing round ships with high freeboard (naves). Sometimes their operation is described as free outfitting, because it was subject to fewer regulatory constraints. These naves transported necessary bulk products such as grain, all kinds of raw materials of high volume, construction materials, salt, ashes, and so forth. The primary purpose of the more strongly defended galleys was to transport costly cargoes of spices, silks and precious cloths, metals, and weapons. In the middle of the fourteenth century, when the Church lifted its prohibition of trade with the Muslims, the Venetians had a fleet ready to open trade once again with the Syrian and Egyptian ports of the Levant. In 1366, a sailing route involving both galleys and naves established connections from the lagoons to Alexandria and Beirut, beginning a promising trade. In the 1440s, nearly ninety naves and fifty-five galleys sailed for the Near East, and about thirty for Constantinople. The volume of the goods continued to increase, as did the pattern of massive investment and fiscal returns for the treasury. The reform of maritime statutes that had become obsolete, the creation of new work contracts that imposed a minimum wage, improvements in living conditions on board ships and a mariners’ residence in the city attracted a skilled labour force, mostly from Dalmatia, Albania, and Greece. These immigrants, originating from its overseas colonies, allowed the Republic to raise the banner of St Mark throughout the Mediterranean.19 The Senate, the real architect of this system, far from putting the system of private management in opposition to the one controlled by the Commune, took the best of each of the two systems and combined them. For that reason, some historians speak disparagingly about bureaucracy or state control to describe the Venetian system of trade.

8 F. Melis, I mercanti italiani nell’Europa medievale e rinascimentale , ed. L. Frangioni

(Florence, 1990), 9.

9 E. Concina, L’Arsenale della Repubblica di Venezia (Venice, 1984), 26 ff.

10 Ibid., 28, and E. Concina, ‘Dal tempio del mercante al piazzale dell’Impero: l’Arsenale di Venezia’, in Progetto Venezia (Venice, n.d.), 57–106. Originally the ‘gulf ’ or ‘Gulf of Venice’ referred to that part of the Adriatic north of a line between Pola and Ravenna. As Venetian control of the Adriatic expanded, so did their definition of ‘the Gulf’. See F. C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic (Baltimore, 1973), 24.

11 E. Crouzet-Pavan, Venise triomphante, les horizons d’un mythe (Paris, 1999), 122.

12 B. Doumerc, La difesa dell’impero, in Storia di Venezia, dalle origini alla caduta della Serenissima, vol. II, La formazione dello stato patrizio , ed. G. Arnaldi, G. Cracco and A. Tenenti (Rome, 1997), 237–50.

13 B. Krekic, Venezia e l’Adriatico, in Storia di Venezia, III, 51–81 and P. Cabanes, Histoire de l’Adriatique (Paris, 2000), 191.

14 Archivio di Stato, Venice, senato, mar, reg. 15, fol. 14 for example, and S. Karpov, La navigazione veneziana nel mar Nero (XIII–XV sec.) (Ravenna, 2000), 12.

15 J. Meyer, ‘Des liens de causalité en histoire: politiques maritimes et société’, Revue historique, 614 (2000), 12.

16 A. Ducellier and B. Doumerc, ‘Les Chemins de l’exil, bouleversements de l’Est européen et migrations vers l’Ouest à la fin du Moyen Âge’ (Paris, 1992), 163; Archivio di Stato, Venice, senato, mar, reg. 15, fol. 161.

17 B. Doumerc, Il dominio del mare, in Storia di Venezia, IV, 11; A. Tenenti and U. Tucci, eds, Rinascimento (Rome, 1996), 113–80.

18 D. Stöckly, Le Système des galées du marché à Venise (fin XIIIe–milieu XVe) (Leiden and New York, 1995), 158; F. C. Lane, Navires et constructeurs à Venise pendant la Renaissance (Paris, 1965).

19 E. Ashtor, Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton, 1981), 381; J. C. Hocquet, Voiliers et commerce en Méditerranée, 1200–1650 (Lille, 1976), 442; B. Doumerc, Venise et l’émirat hafside de Tunis (Paris, 1999), 172.


Siege of Ottoman-held Osijek


A medium-high oblique view of Osijek bridge, built in 1526 on the orders of Suleiman the Great, spanning the River Draba and surrounding marshes between Osijeck and the Fortress of Dada to the north. This very considerable feat of engineering earned the Turks a freedom of manoeuvre which was denied to

the Austrians. Oriented with north-north-east to top. Habsburg-Ottoman Wars (Fourth Austro-Turkish War) (1663-4).

The bridge was 7 km (4.3 miles) long and 6 metres 20 ft wide. Its strategic importance lay in the easy access it gave Ottoman troops into western Europe, notably towards Vienna. The event shown in this print was the partially successful attempt to destroy the bridge by burning by the Ban [viceregal governor under the Habsburgs] of Croatia from 1647-1664, Nicholas VII of Zrin (Miklós Zrínyi; Croatian: Nikola Zrinski, 1620-64) – the ‘Conte Nicolo di Sd’rin’ in the text of this print. The objective of this assault, made on 1 February early in the 1664 campaign season, was to impede Ottoman access to Vienna.

The bridge was destroyed by the Austrian army some twenty-two years later in 1686: see RCIN 724135.

After seven years of war and the failed Siege of Vienna in 1529, the Treaty of Konstantiniyye was signed, in which John Zápolya was recognized by the Austrians as King of Hungary as an Ottoman vassal, and the Ottomans recognized Habsburg rule over Royal Hungary.

This treaty satisfied neither John Zápolya nor Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, whose armies began to skirmish along the borders. Ferdinand decided to strike a decisive blow in 1537 at John, thereby violating the treaty.

Despite the second failed attempt at capturing Vienna, the Ottoman’s and Austrians signed a peace treaty, which recognised the Kingdom of Hungary as an Ottoman vassal, as long as the Ottoman’s respected the regions of Hungary that had recognised Habsburg rule.

This peace deal did not end the war between the two rivals. The war would turn bloody again at the Siege of Osijek (1537), where Ferdinand and his massive Austrian army, which was well trained and equipped thanks to the success of his defending force at Koszeg, planned a massive blow to the Ottoman strong hold of Osijek. This attack would directly violate the treaty.

Ferdinand sent an army of 24,000 men (from Austria, Hungary, Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia, Tyrol, and Croatia) under the command of the Carniolan nobleman Johann Katzianer to take Osijek.

The siege came to nothing and because of the appearance of the Ottoman cavalry sent by the governor of Belgrade, the army had to withdraw. The Ottoman army reached the Austrians near the swamps of Gorjani, near Đakovo and Valpovo on the Drava river. The imperials were severely defeated and Katzianer fled with the cavalry and abandoned his army. The entire force was annihilated. At the Battle of Dakovo, the Austrian attempt would be futile, and faced a crushing defeat, leaving more than 25,000 Austrians dead or wounded and minimal loses to the Ottoman defensive force. Less than a year later at the Battle of Preveza, in 1538, the Ottoman army would again crush the Habsburg led coalition.

A reported 20,000 men were killed, including generals Ludwig Lodron and Pavle Bakić. Bakić’s severed head was taken to Constantinople.

The Habsburg counter-offensive

The reconquest of Hungary 1683–1718

Years of success 1683–1689

In autumn 1683, shortly after the relief of Vienna, the allied forces advanced into Ottoman Hungary. Following a clear victory at Párkány in early October, Gran was captured late in the same month and Thököly pushed back in Upper Hungary. In December 1683, the Sultan had the luckless grand vizier Kara Mustapha executed at Belgrade, while, on the Christian side, the Polish auxiliary troops returned home.

1684 saw a new ‘Holy League’ created under the auspices of the Pope. The Emperor, Poland and Venice signed an alliance (5 March 1684), while Russia joined the anti-Turkish coalition two years later. Though a coordinated strategy was beyond the new allies, the opening of additional theatres of war prevented the Turks from concentrating their forces on one target. Venice was now fighting the Porte at sea, in Dalmatia, Bosnia and on the Greek mainland, while Poland tried to reconquer Podolia (lost in 1676) and repeatedly invaded Moldavia, albeit with no lasting success. In order to be able to focus its efforts on the war against the Sultan, Vienna accepted that, for the time being, it could do nothing effective to resist Louis XIV’s annexations along the Rhine.

Nevertheless, the main thrust of the Imperial army’s three-stage campaign plan for 1684 met with no success. The main army with its 43,000 men under Charles of Lorraine was to take Ofen (Buda), with a small corps of some 11,000 advancing along the Drava against Esseg. Finally, a third corps (7,000 men) was to keep in check Thököly in Upper Hungary. While in June 1684 the main army managed to conquer Pest, the siege of Buda, started in mid-July, had to be abandoned in early November after heavy casualties.

Plans for 1685 again provided for a three-part offensive, with troops simultaneously advancing along the Drava, the Danube and in Upper Hungary. In August 1685 Neuhäusel was stormed, with Szolnok following in October. Significant progress could be made against Thököly in Upper Hungary, where the most important fortresses were now again in the hands of the Imperial forces. This marked the end of Thököly’s short reign. The Kuruc movement crumbled within a short time. Most of the Kuruc army and its leaders had deserted to the Imperial camp and were now fighting the Turks. Munkács, Thököly’s eyrie, alone held out until the beginning of 1688.

It was only in 1686 that the Hungarian theatre of war witnessed a real breakthrough. While the Polish troops had left the ranks of the Imperial auxiliary forces in the winter of 1683, Brandenburg rejoined the Imperial camp after a prolonged phase of pro-French orientation. Two treaties were concluded in January and March 1686, laying down that the elector was to send auxiliary troops of more than 8,000 men to Hungary in return for substantial subsidies and the cession of Schwiebus, a Silesian exclave on Brandenburg territory. After months of siege the Christian armies, mustering all their strength, finally succeeded in capturing Buda, the capital of Turkish Hungary (2 September 1686), with Hatvan, Fünfkirchen, Siklos and Szegedin following in October.

In return for putting auxiliary troops at the Emperor’s disposal, German rulers not only expected the stipulated subsidies but also a major command. In 1686 and again in 1687, the Bavarian elector thus created considerable problems and even operational confusion. In July 1687 the Christian main army was heading south along the Danube to capture Esseg. On 12 August 1687, at Harsány near Mohács, Charles of Lorraine defeated a Turkish army which had come to the rescue of Esseg and the nearby bridge over the river Sava, one of the most important Turkish supply points. After the victory, a smaller Christian corps managed to cross the Drava and occupied Esseg and Central Slavonia; in December 1687, far in the north, the Turkish stronghold of Erlau (Eger) capitulated.

Ever since 1685 Vienna had been trying to get Transylvania to join the ‘Holy League’ as a first step to re-integrate the principality smoothly into the Habsburg realm. Although Imperial protection, religious freedom, independence as well as recognition of Michael Apafy (1632–1690) as reigning prince of Transylvania and of his son and presumptive heir had already been granted by treaty (June 1686), Apafy’s position remained ambiguous. Jan Sobieski was also trying to turn Transylvania into a Polish protectorate and the Turks kept a watchful eye on their satellite as well. In October 1687 Charles of Lorraine invaded Transylvania, which was now forced by treaty to provide winter quarters – both provisions and cash – for sections of the Imperial army. In May 1688, Imperial diplomacy eventually succeeded in persuading Transylvania to break with the Porte, following which the Prince and the three ‘nations’ recognized the supremacy of the King of Hungary. In return, Michael Apafy retained his princely status and religious pluralism was guaranteed. Vienna had intended a similar approach for the Turkish tributary principality of Walachia, yet the corresponding treaty of January 1689 never came into force.

In 1688 the Christian armies’ central operational target was the major fortress of Belgrade commanding the confluence of the rivers Danube and Sava. The capture of Stuhlweißenburg in May 1688 seemed an excellent omen. With the Duke of Lorraine fallen ill, the main army, rallying at Esseg, was at last under the supreme command of Max Emanuel of Bavaria. After the capture of Titel in late July 1688, Belgrade was besieged from mid-August; it fell on 6 September 1688. Meanwhile, field marshal Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden, nephew of Hermann von Baden, president of the Aulic War Council, captured Kostajnica on the river Una before marching along the Una and Sava to occupy Gradisca and Brod (August 1688). Subsequently, he advanced up the Drina to Zvornik, which could be taken in mid-September 1688. In March 1689 the totally isolated fortress of Szigetvár finally surrendered to the Imperial troops.

Setbacks and stagnation 1689–1696

The success of 1686–88 encouraged inflated hopes of territorial gains in Vienna. Serbia, Walachia, Moldavia, and even Bulgaria, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia and Thessalia conquered permanently or occupied until redeemed for enormous reparations – such was the heady prospect entertained by Austrian observers.

Reality, however, was quite different: in the summer of 1688, the Turks had sent a peace mission to Vienna, where it was stalled for several months. In view of France’s aggressive posture (p. 169), the Emperor’s council was more than ever divided into ‘easterners’ and ‘westerners’, with the two other leading Catholic courts, Spain and the Papacy, fighting on different fronts: Spain wanted Imperial support against France in the west, while papal diplomacy sought concerted action against the Turks and so sponsored a durable peace between Louis XIV and the Emperor. In spite of the dawning conflict with France – which naturally promoted Turkish hopes for relief – Vienna was ultimately unwilling to agree to Turkish demands. These were stiff given the Turkish defeats: Transylvania and Belgrade were to be handed back to the Turks, with all other Turkish-held fortresses in Hungary remaining in the hands of the Sultan. Vienna in turn made demands reaching far beyond the uti possidetis, and discussions broke down. In 1689 the Emperor embarked on a risky two-front war, hoping to wear down the Porte by further victories while simultaneously fighting Louis XIV. As 1690 showed only too clearly, this commitment on two fronts was too much for the resources of the Habsburg Monarchy and its small military establishment.

For a short time, the war in the west turned Hungary into a secondary theatre of war. Charles of Lorraine and Max Emanuel were fighting on the Rhine, and so Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden was nominated new commander-in-chief in Hungary, but now had no more than 24,000 men at his disposal, with another 6,000 being deployed in Transylvania. Numerous Imperial regiments as well as auxiliary forces sent by the Franconian and Swabian Circles left the Hungarian theatre to join the struggle against France.

Despite severe supply problems, Baden achieved a succès d’estime in the campaign of 1689. In August, he pushed through the Morava valley as far as Niš, where he crushed the Turks on 24 September and drove them back into Bulgaria. Baden then reached the Danube and in mid-October 1689 took Vidin by storm before occupying Kladovo. The Imperial forces intended to winter in Walachia – to spare exhausted Hungary, but also to underline Vienna’s claim to a ‘Greater Hungary’ including the neighbouring Turkish tributaries such as Moldavia and Walachia. Although agreement had been reached in a treaty imposed upon Walachia, the Emperor’s troops were not provided for when they entered the territory in late 1689. Even the punitive occupation of Bucharest could not alleviate the dismal supply situation, and early in 1690 the much reduced Imperial corps had to withdraw to Transylvania. This debacle was the first of a series of failures.

While marching towards the Danube, Baden had left behind a detachment of 8,000 men to hold Niš and to protect his flank. This Imperial corps, however, preferred to push expansion further south as far as Skopje and Prizren forcing the weak Turkish forces at first to retreat. In early January 1690, however, the latter annihilated a sizeable Imperial unit at Kacanik, forcing the Imperial troops in turn to retreat back to the Niš area. Only then did the situation stabilize, with retaliatory raids now leading the Imperial forces deep into Bosnia and Bulgaria. Not surprisingly, the successful Imperial advance into the Balkans encouraged the Roman Catholic Emperor to regard himself as patron of the region’s Orthodox Christians. Leopold was in direct competition with the Tsar in Moscow, to whom Orthodox Balkan Christians had been turning for protection since the late 1680s. In April 1690 Leopold issued a manifesto to the Christian peoples in the Balkans encouraging them to take up arms against the Turks. Yet the Imperial defeat and retreat in 1690 had changed the situation, exposing as it did the Slav population to Turkish revenge. Large-scale emigration from Serbia, Macedonia and the area around Novi Pazar had to be organized by the region’s Orthodox patriarch. Beginning in the summer of 1690, a maximum of 60,000–70,000 people – Serbs, but also Bulgarians, Macedonians and Albanians – were moved to the southern parts of Hungary but also as far north as Szeged and Arad, and even further north to Buda. In return for religious freedom, ecclesiastical autonomy and special Imperial protection – in other words the exemption from the Hungarian feudal system – the ‘Serbs’ were expected to reinforce the Emperor’s military forces. New sections of the Military Border established early in the eighteenth century were frequently manned by these Slav refugees of 1690. The migration also had significant long-term consequences: while the Slav element in the southern parts of Hungary was considerably strengthened, the Serbian heartland was resettled by Albanians – migratory movements whose repercussions were still being felt in the late-twentieth century!

The setbacks early in 1690 persuaded Baden to establish a defensive perimeter along the rivers Sava and Danube, particularly since the main army in 1690 numbered no more than 11,000 men (excluding borderers)! Transylvania, Upper Hungary’s glacis, had to be particularly protected, but it was too late: the major offensive launched by the Turks in the summer of 1690 resulted in a colossal military disaster for the Christian cause. While the grand vizier himself reconquered the Danube area, Imre Thököly, whom the Turks had appointed prince of Transylvania after Apafy’s death, invaded his new territory in August 1690 forcing the Transylvanian Estates to pay homage to him in September. Baden now counter-attacked vigorously, reasserting Imperial control over Transylvania by the end of December 1690. Further west, however, a series of disasters had occurred. In August/September the Turks had captured Vidin and Niš and then the undermanned stronghold of Belgrade on 8 October 1690. A Turkish advance on Esseg could be warded off, but the Turks in turn managed to relieve those fortresses north of the Danube which they still controlled: Temesvár, Gyula and Grosswardein. The fall of Kanizsa in March 1690 was thus but poor consolation for the Christian side.

Though Thököly’s invasion of Transylvania was a one-off, it had clearly demonstrated the instability of the situation in the region. In 1690 and again in 1691 the Emperor confirmed the Transylvanian liberties and constitution, in return for which Transylvania agreed to contribute a handsome annual sum to the Imperial treasury. In reality, the country’s period of semi-independence was over. Upon his death Apafy had left behind a minor son, Michael II (1676–1713), whose formal recognition as prince the Transylvanians could never obtain. In 1697, young Apafy renounced the Transylvanian throne and the principality became a firm part of the Habsburg realm. Regardless of Transylvanian privileges particularly in religious matters, the de facto occupation by Imperial troops resulted in Counter-Reformation measures. It was in vain that, with the help of the Maritime Powers, the Transylvanians tried to preserve a special status.

As for the campaign of 1691, it was clear that the emphasis had now to be put on the Hungarian theatre of war again, even if England and the Dutch Republic, the Emperor’s allies against France, were strongly pressing for peace in the east in order to free Austria’s resources for war against the Sun King in the west. By hiring auxiliary troops, increased recruiting and transferring units from the western theatre of war to Hungary the imbalance was to be set right, with an aim of raising the number of Christian soldiers deployed in Hungary and Transylvania to 75,000 men (excluding Hungarian irregulars and border guards), while a mere 8,700 and 14,500 remained for the Reich and Piedmont respectively. On 19 August 1691, the margrave of Baden, fittingly nicknamed ‘Türkenlouis’ for his victories over the Turks, crushed the grand vizier Mustapha Köprülü and his troops – far outnumbering the Imperial forces – in the battle of Slankamen near the confluence of the rivers Tisza and Danube. The grand vizier himself died in battle, but the Christian army also suffered heavy losses: 7,200 dead and wounded, almost a quarter of the field army’s strength; an advance on Belgrade was thus out of the question. Baden therefore turned against the Turkish-occupied fortress of Grosswardein, which capitulated only after many months of blockade early in June 1692. Otherwise the year witnessed few events worth reporting, apart from the fortification of Peterwardein on the Danube whose task it was to neutralize the fortress of Belgrade as far as possible; as early as 1694 it proved itself withstanding a major Turkish attack.

Slankamen was the last of Christian victories for some time to come; defensive warfare now became the order of the day. For the duration of the war in the west, French diplomacy did its utmost to keep the Turks fighting the Emperor. After the death of Pope Innocent XI, who had supported Leopold I’s Turkish war in all possible ways, financial help from Rome gradually petered out in 1689. Of paramount importance remained the support which the Emperor received from the Reich (the Diet voted 2.75 million fl. in 1686). After 1692 – following in the train of Bavaria, Saxony and Brandenburg – the newly created electorate of Hanover also decided to send a sizeable auxiliary corps of 6,000 men to the Turkish front. Each year of the war, between 20,000 and 40,000 men from the Reich reinforced the Christian troops in Hungary, before the outbreak of war with France in 1688–89 resulted in a dramatic, if temporary, cutback.

In 1693 the Emperor finally lost his ablest general to the Rhine front, where Baden took over command. Even so, attempts were made by the Imperial forces in Hungary in August and September 1693 to reconquer Belgrade, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Tartar forces invaded Hungary and devastated the tracts along the Tisza as far as Debrecen. As early as spring Christian forces had captured the Turkish enclave of Jenö north-east of Arad. After the fall of the fortress of Gyula (December 1694), Temesvár was the only place on Hungarian soil still in Turkish hands.

The campaigns of 1695 and 1696 were overshadowed by the blunders of the 25-year-old elector Friedrich August of Saxony as luckless commander-in-chief. In return for an auxiliary corps of 8,000 men he received not only 200,000 fi., but also the supreme command in Hungary. The Christian main army of some 50,000 men at first planned to besiege the isolated fortress of Temesvár, but the Turks seized the initiative. At the end of August 1695 they crossed the Danube at Pancsova, re-captured Titel and, near Lugos, wiped out an Imperial corps sent from Transylvania which had been unable to join forces with the main army.

In 1696 the Saxon elector again took command after increasing his auxiliary corps to 12,000; yet the siege of Temesvár, started back in August, failed once more. On the Black Sea, however, troops, albeit Russian ones, were favoured with greater fortune. After two unsuccessful campaigns against the Crimea in 1687 and 1689, Moscow had practically withdrawn from the war against the Porte. It was not until 1695 that Tsar Peter resumed operations, and in 1696 Azov could be captured. In February 1697, Russia, Venice and the Emperor entered into an alliance committing themselves to concerted action against the Sultan.

Unexpected triumph 1697–1699

After Jan Sobieski’s death in June 1696, the Saxon elector’s Polish ambitions pleased the Emperor not only because this prevented the French candidate from being elected; what was even more important was the fact that Friedrich August’s election to the Polish throne also freed Vienna from having to entrust an incompetent with the supreme command once more; the latter now passed to Prince Eugene of Savoy, previously commander of the Imperial forces in Piedmont. Descending from a collateral line of the dukes of Savoy and brought up at the French court, he was the son of Prince Maurice de Savoie-Carignan and Olympia Mancini, Cardinal Mazarin’s niece, as well as cousin to margrave Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden. In 1683, he entered Imperial service just in time for the relief of Vienna and soon made a career for himself, commanding a cavalry regiment by the end of the year and becoming general in 1685; as early as 1693, at the age of only 30, he was promoted field marshal.

Succeeding the Saxon elector as commander-in-chief in Hungary, Eugene was to be responsible for the crowning achievement in the Turkish war, which had been so unsuccessful in recent campaigns. Now that war in the west had ended new energy and resources could go to the Turkish front. On 11 September 1697 Eugene of Savoy and his 50,000 men caught the Turks on their way north at Zenta, while they were crossing the river Tisza; in the ensuing battle, the Ottoman army was annihilated. 25,000 Turks are said to have lost their lives, including the grand vizier. Sultan Mustapha II (1695–1703) escaped to Temesvár; by early 1698, he was already seeking English mediation to end the war. In early October 1697, Eugene, with a hand-picked army of 7,000 plus strong border units, embarked on a daring raid which took him up the Bosna as far as Sarajevo. The campaign of 1698 was as uneventful as its predecessors until the year of Zenta. Temesvár could still not be captured.

Early in October 1698, peace negotiations between the members of the Holy League and Constantinople opened at Karlowitz south-east of Peterwardein under English and Dutch mediation. Despite her military failures, Poland regained Podolia, while Venice was granted the Peloponnesus (Morea), additions to the Ionian Islands and frontier rectifications in Bosnia and Dalmatia. Russia and the Porte concluded an armistice in January 1699, followed by a definitive peace only in 1700, with Moscow at least temporarily gaining access to the Black Sea via Azov and Taganrog; by 1711–13, this had been lost again after a disastrous campaign against the Turks. Russia’s interest in access to the Black Sea reassured Vienna, which wanted to see the Tsar occupied as far away as possible. As early as 1698 Austria had advised Russia not to attack Moldavia and Walachia, considering these Turkish satellites to lie within her own sphere of influence. In the wake of the Polish election in 1697, Russia’s drive towards the west had become tangible, and during the Karlowitz negotiations the Tsar posed dangerously as protector of the Balkan Christians.

Imperialists and Turks signed their peace treaty on 26 January 1699. The whole of Hungary (with the exception of the Banat of Temesvár), Croatia and Slavonia (excluding a small tip of Syrmia near Belgrade) passed to Leopold I. Karlowitz was the first peace agreement where the weakened Ottoman Empire had to accept western mediation and also suffered considerable territorial losses. Hungary remained the focus of the Emperor’s armed forces. With peace-time strength reached after radical disarmament, more than 75 per cent of the armed forces were still quartered in the kingdom.

Varna Crusade (1444)

The last great land-based crusade against the Ottoman Empire, which ended in the defeat of a Balkan Christian coalition by the Turks near the city of Varna (in mod. Bulgaria).

The Varna Crusade came about in response to Ottoman advances in the Balkans, notably the occupation of Serbia (1439) and the siege of Belgrade (1440). In 1443, for the first time after the disastrous Nikopolis Crusade (1396), Hungary initiated an ambitious offensive campaign against the Ottoman Empire, encouraged by Pope Eugenius IV and his legate Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini. A Hungarian army of some 35,000 troops, led by the famous general John Hunyadi (Hung. Hunyadi Janos), was accompanied by Cesarini, the Serbian despot George Brankovi’c, and King Vladislav I (king of Poland as Wladyslaw III), who had been elected as king of Hungary in expectation of significant Polish support against the Turks. The army left Buda on 22 July 1443, crossed the Serbian border by mid-October, and occupied Sofia by December. Having gained some other minor victories, it returned home in January after learning that Sultan Murad II had crossed the Bosporus, and celebrated a spectacular triumphal march in Buda.

Faced with a revolt by the Karamanids in Anatolia in spring 1444, the sultan was unwilling to face war on two fronts, and offered favorable peace conditions to Hungary: peace for ten years, the surrender of Serbia and Bosnia, the liberation of the sons of Brankovi’c, and 100,000 gold florins. The extravagant peace terms confused the political parties in Hungary; before the sultan’s offer in April the Hungarian diet had voted for war, and the king had taken a solemn oath to carry it out. The war was also supported by the legate Cesarini, who envisaged the union of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and the relief of Constantinople, and by the Polish court party in Buda, though it was rejected by Poland.

The period between April and September is very controversial, and has been clarified only recently. Despot Brankovi’c accepted the sultan’s conditions, and offered John Hunyadi his own immense possessions in Hungary in exchange for his support of a future peace treaty. Hunyadi seems to have accepted Brankovi’c’s offer, which meant that Hungary was preparing for war and negotiating peace terms at the same time. A tentative peace treaty was concluded by the Hungarians at Adrianople (mod. Edirne, Turkey) on 15 June, and the sultan left Europe on 12 July to lead his troops against his adversaries in Anatolia. In this precarious situation, the Hungarians tried to win both peace and war. On 4 August at Szeged, King Vladislav declared invalid any former or future treaties made with the infidels, with the approval of Cesarini. Meanwhile the Hungarian-Ottoman peace treaty was ratified on 15 August in Varad (mod. Oradea, Romania) by the king, John Hunyadi, and Brankovi’c, only a few miles from the forward outposts of the royal army. A papal-Venetian fleet sailed to blockade the Dardanelles, but the Hungarian-Ottoman diplomatic activity disturbed the European Christian coalition and the efficacy of the blockade, causing delay and depriving the campaign of the necessary surprise effect. The unity of the coalition was now in tatters. Despot Brankovi’c was satisfied to have at least regained northern Serbia together with its capital (22 August); he not only failed to join the coming war, but even tried to hinder it.

The Christian coalition army amounted to some 20,000 men, considerably fewer than the previous year. It consisted mostly of Hungarians, along with Polish and Bohemian mercenaries and some 2,000-3,000 Wallachian light cavalry led by Vlad Dracul; the absence of any Serbian and Albanian auxiliary troops should have been a warning signal. The army left Orflova on 20 September, intending to strike at the Ottoman capital of Adrianople. The Christians marched along the Danube route via Vidin (26 September) and Nikopolis (16 October), and turned southeast via Novi Pazar and Shumen, capturing and plundering all these cities. Due to bad reconnaissance, they did not know that the sultan had already crossed the Bosporus with an overwhelming (perhaps double) numerical superiority.

The Christians met the sultan at the city of Varna on 9 November, on terrain unfavorable for them, between the lake of Devna and the sea coast. Despite John Hunyadi’s military talent, the Christians were defeated as a result of poor cooperation among the multinational coalition forces. Hunyadi initially gained the upper hand on both wings by the overwhelming attack of his heavy cavalry. The sultan considered a retreat, but at the next decisive moment King Vladislav attacked the Turkish elite janissary units with his Polish troops. This ruined the Christian tactics, and resulted in the death of the king and the papal legate. The Christian battle order dissolved, and the cavalry left in panic-stricken flight, including John Hunyadi, who escaped to Wallachia. Both sides suffered heavy losses, above all among the Christian infantry units that attempted to defend their camp behind wagons in a manner similar to that of the Hussite troops of Bohemia.

The Hungarian and papal war parties had been correct in their assessment that 1444 presented the best opportunity in a long time to wear down Ottoman power by force of arms. This crusade, however, proved to be the last spectacular failure of traditional crusading strategy: sweeping the Ottomans out of Europe in a single campaign, in the absence of political unity among the fragmented and partly conquered Balkan states, proved to be impossible, and the Christians were unable to make full use of the favorable peace conditions. Much more could have been achieved by accepting the peace terms than by launching a campaign into an unstable region. As had been done by King Sigismund after the defeat of the Nikopolis Crusade in 1396, the Hungarian kings again adopted a deliberate defensive strategy (particularly under King Matthias Corvinus, son of John Hunyadi) up to the final collapse of the Hungarian defense system in 1521 and of the medieval kingdom of Hungary itself in 1526.

Bibliography Babinger, Franz, “Von Amurath zu Amurath. Vor- und Nachspiel der Schlacht bei Varna 1444,” Oriens 3 (1950), 229-265. Cvetkova, Bistra, La Bataille mémorable des peuples: Le sud-est européen et la conquete ottomane (Sofia: Sofia Press, 1971). Engel, Pal, “Janos Hunyadi: The Decisive Years of his Career, 1440-1444,” in From Hunyadi to Rakoczi: War and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Hungary, ed. Janos M. Bak and Béla K. Kiraly (Boulder, CO: Atlantic, 1982), pp. 103-123. —, “Janos Hunyadi and the Peace of Szeged,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 47 (1994), 241-257. Halecki, Oscar, The Crusade of Varna: A Discussion of Controversial Problems (New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1943). Imber, Colin, The Crusade of Varna, 1443-45 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006). Papp, Sandor, “Der ungarisch-türkische Friedensvertrag im Jahre 1444,” Chronica: Annual of the Institute of History, University of Szeged 1 (2001), 67-78. Setton, Kenneth M., The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571, vol. 2: The Fifteenth Century (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1978).

John Hunyadi and the Late Crusade: A Transylvanian Warlord against the Crescent (Retinue to Regiment) Paperback – January 19, 2020 by Andrei Pogăciaș (Author)

The book aims to present the life and military exploits of one of the biggest commanders in European medieval history.  

The chapters will present his life, the realities of Hungarian and Transylvanian politics, relations with the Ottomans and other states, military strategy and tactics in the battles against the Turk – the defensive battles of 1442, The Long Campaign 1443-44, Varna 1444, Kosovo 1448, Belgrade 1456 and other smaller battles. 

There will be a presentation of the structure of Hungarian and Transylvanian armies and the tactics they used. 

The Fall of Constantinople: Aftermath

The reckoning followed hard on the heels of the fall. The next day, there was a distribution of the booty: according to custom, Mehmet as commander was entitled to a fifth of everything that had been taken. His share of the enslaved Greeks he settled in the city in an area by the Horn, the Phanar district, which would continue as a traditional Greek quarter down to modern times. The vast majority of the ordinary citizens – about 30,000 – were marched off to the slave markets of Edirne, Bursa and Ankara. We know the fates of a few of these deportees because they were important people who were subsequently ransomed back into freedom. Among these was Matthew Camariotes, whose father and brother were killed, and whose family was dispersed; painstakingly he set about finding them. ‘I ransomed my sister from one place, my mother from somewhere else; then my brother’s son: most pleasing to God, I obtained their release.’ Overall, though, it was a bitter experience. Beyond the death and disappearance of loved ones, most shattering to Camariotes was the discovery that ‘of my brother’s four sons, in the disaster three – alas! – through the fragility of youth, renounced their Christian faith … maybe this wouldn’t have happened, had my father and brother survived … so I live, if you can call it living, in pain and grief’. Conversion was a not uncommon occurrence, so traumatic had been the failure of prayers and relics to prevent the capture of the God-protected city by Islam. Many more captives simply disappeared into the gene pool of the Ottoman Empire – ‘scattered across the whole world like dust’, in the lament of the Armenian poet, Abraham of Ankara.

The surviving notables in the city suffered more immediate fates. Mehmet retained all the significant personages whom he could find, including the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras and his family. The Venetians, whom Mehmet identified as his key opponents in the Mediterranean basin, came in for especially harsh treatment. Minotto, the bailey of their colony, who had played a spirited part in the defence of the city, was executed, together with his son and other Venetian notables; a further twenty-nine were ransomed back to Italy. The Catalan consul and some of his leading men were also executed, whilst a vain hunt was conducted for the unionist churchmen, Leonard of Chios and Isidore of Kiev, who managed to escape unrecognized. A search in Galata for the two surviving Bocchiardi brothers was similarly unsuccessful; they hid and survived.

The Podesta of Galata, Angelo Lomellino, acted promptly to try to save the Genoese colony. Its complicity in the defence of Constantinople made it immediately vulnerable to retribution. Lomellino wrote to his brother that the sultan ‘said that we did all we could for the safety of Constantinople … and certainly he spoke the truth. We were in the greatest danger, we had to do what he wanted to avoid his fury.’ Mehmet ordered the immediate destruction of the town’s walls and ditch, with the exception of the sea wall, destruction of its defensive towers and the handing over of the cannon and all other weapons. The podesta’s nephew was taken off into the service of the palace as a hostage, in common with a number of sons of the Byzantine nobility – a policy that would both ensure good behaviour and provide educated young recruits for the imperial administration.

It was in this context that the fate of the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras was decided. The highest-ranking Byzantine noble, Notaras was a controversial figure during the siege, given a consistently bad press by the Italians. He was apparently against union; his oft repeated remark, ‘rather the sultan’s turban than the cardinal’s hat’, was held up by Italian writers as proof of the intransigence of Orthodox Greeks. It appears that Mehmet was initially minded to make Notaras prefect of the city – an indication of the deeper direction of the sultan’s plans for Constantinople – but was probably persuaded by his ministers to reverse the decision. According to the ever-vivid Doukas, Mehmet, ‘full of wine and in a drunken stupor’, demanded that Notaras should hand over his son to satisfy the sultan’s lust. When Notaras refused, Mehmet sent the executioner to the family. After killing all the males, ‘the executioner picked up the heads and returned to the banquet, presenting them to the bloodthirsty beast’. It is perhaps more likely that Notaras was unwilling to see his children taken as hostages and Mehmet decided that it was too risky to let the leading Byzantine nobility survive.

The work of converting St Sophia into a mosque began almost at once. A wooden minaret was rapidly constructed for the call to prayer and the figurative mosaics whitewashed over, with the exception of the four guardian angels under the dome, which Mehmet, with a regard for the spirits of the place, preserved. (Other powerful ‘pagan’ talismans of the ancient city also survived for a while intact – the equestrian statue of Justinian, the serpent column from Delphi and the Egyptian column; Mehmet was nothing if not superstitious.) On 2 June, Friday prayers were heard for the first time in what was now the Aya Sofya mosque ‘and the Islamic invocation was read in the name of Sultan Mehmet Khan Gazi’. According to the Ottoman chroniclers, ‘the sweet five-times-repeated chant of the Muslim faith was heard in the city’ and in a moment of piety Mehmet coined a new name for the city: Islambol – a pun on its Turkish name, meaning ‘full of Islam’ – that somehow failed to strike an echo in Turkish ears. Miraculously Sheikh Akshemsettin also rapidly ‘rediscovered’ the tomb of Ayyub, the Prophet’s standard-bearer who had died at the first Arab siege in 669 and whose death had been such a powerful motivator in the holy war for the city.

Despite these tokens of Muslim piety, the sultan’s rebuilding of the city was to prove highly controversial to conventional Islam. Mehmet had been deeply disturbed by the devastation inflicted on Constantinople: ‘What a city we have committed to plunder and destruction,’ he is reported to have said when he first toured the city, and when he rode back to Edirne on 21 June he undoubtedly left behind a melancholy ruin, devoid of people. Reconstructing an imperial capital was to be a major preoccupation of his reign – but his model would not be an Islamic one.


The Christian ships that had escaped on the morning of 29 May carried word of the city’s fall back to the West. At the start of June three ships reached Crete with the sailors whose heroic defence of the towers had prompted their release by Mehmet. The news appalled the island. ‘Nothing worse than this has happened, nor will happen,’ wrote a monk. Meanwhile the Venetian galleys reached the island of Negroponte off the coast of Greece and reduced the population to panic – it was only with difficulty that the bailey there managed to prevent a whole-scale evacuation of the island. He wrote post-haste to the Venetian Senate. As ships criss-crossed the Aegean exchanging news, the word spread with gathering speed to the islands and the sea ports of the eastern sea, to Cyprus, Rhodes, Corfu, Chios, Monemvasia, Modon, Lepanto. Like a giant boulder dropped into the basin of the Mediterranean a tidal wave of panic rippled outwards all the way to the Gates of Gibraltar – and far beyond. It reached the mainland of Europe at Venice on the morning of Friday 29 June 1453. The Senate was in session. When a fast cutter from Lepanto tied up at the wooden landing stage on the Bacino, people were leaning from windows and balconies avid for news of the city, their families and their commercial interests. When they learned that Constantinople had fallen, ‘a great and excessive crying broke out, weeping, groaning … everyone beating their chests with their fists, tearing at their heads and faces, for the death of a father or a son or a brother, or for the loss of their property’. The Senate heard the news in stunned silence; voting was suspended. A flurry of letters was dispatched by flying courier across Italy to tell the news of ‘the horrible and deplorable fall of the cities of Constantinople and Pera [Galata]’. It reached Bologna on 4 July, Genoa on 6 July, Rome on 8 July and Naples shortly after. Many at first refused to believe reports that the invincible city could have fallen; when they did, there was open mourning in the streets. Terror amplified the wildest rumours. It was reported that the whole population over the age of six had been slaughtered, that 40,000 people had been blinded by the Turks, that all the churches had been destroyed and the sultan was now gathering a huge force for an immediate invasion of Italy. Word of mouth emphasized the bestiality of the Turks, the ferocity of their attack on Christendom – themes that would ring loudly in Europe for hundreds of years.

If there is any moment at which it is possible to recognize a modern sensibility in a medieval event it is here in the account of reactions to the news of the fall of Constantinople. Like the assassination of Kennedy or 9/11 it is clear that people throughout Europe could remember exactly where they were when they first heard the news. ‘On the day when the Turks took Constantinople the sun was darkened,’ declared a Georgian chronicler. ‘What is this execrable news which is borne to us concerning Constantinople?’ wrote Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini to the Pope. ‘My hand trembles, even as I write; my soul is horrified.’ Frederick III wept when word reached him in Germany. The news radiated outward across Europe as fast as a ship could sail, a horse could ride, a song could be sung. It spread outwards from Italy to France, Spain, Portugal, the Low Countries, Serbia, Hungary, Poland and beyond. In London a chronicler noted that ‘in this year was the City of Constantine the noble lost by Christian men and won by the Prince of the Turks, Muhammad’; Christian I, King of Denmark and Norway, described Mehmet as the beast of the Apocalypse rising out of the sea. The diplomatic channels between the courts of Europe hummed with news and warnings and ideas for projected crusades. Across the Christian world there was a huge outpouring of letters, chronicles, histories, prophecies, songs, laments and sermons translated into all the languages of the Faith, from Serbian to French, from Armenian to English. The tale of Constantinople was heard not just in palaces and castles but also at crossroads, market squares and inns. It reached the furthest corners of Europe and the humblest people: in due course even the Lutheran prayer book in Iceland would beg God’s salvation from ‘the cunning of the Pope and the terror of the Turk’. It was just the start of a huge renewal of anti-Islamic sentiment.

Within Islam itself, the word was greeted with joy by pious Muslims. On 27 October an ambassador from Mehmet arrived in Cairo, bearing news of the city’s capture and bringing two highborn Greek captives as visible proof. According to the Muslim chronicler, ‘The Sultan and all the men rejoiced at this mighty conquest; the good news was sounded by the bands each morning and Cairo was decorated for two days … people celebrated by decorating shops and houses most extravagantly … I say to God be thanks and acknowledgement for this mighty victory.’ It was a victory of immense significance for the Muslim world; it fulfilled the old pseudo-prophecies attributed to Muhammad and seemed to restore the prospect of the world spread of the Faith. It brought the Sultan immense prestige. Mehmet also sent the customary victory letter to the leading potentates of the Muslim world that staked his claim to be the true leader of the holy war, taking the title of ‘Father of the Conquest’, directly linked ‘by the breath of the wind of the Caliphate’ to the early, glorious days of Islam. According to Doukas the head of Constantine, ‘stuffed with straw’, was also sent round ‘to the leaders of the Persians, Arabs and other Turks’, and Mehmet sent 400 Greek children each to the rulers of Egypt, Tunis and Granada. These were not mere gifts. Mehmet was laying claim to be the defender of the Faith and to its ultimate prize: protectorate of the holy places of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. ‘It is your responsibility’, he peremptorily scolded the Mamluk sultan in Cairo, ‘to keep the pilgrimage routes open for the Muslims; we have the duty of providing gazis.’ At the same time, he declared himself to be ‘Sovereign of two seas and two lands’, heir to the empire of the Caesars with ambitions to a world domination that would be both imperial and religious: ‘There must … be only one empire, one faith and one sovereignty in the world.’

In the West the fall of Constantinople changed nothing and everything. To those close to events, it was clear that the city was undefendable. As an isolated enclave its capture was ultimately inevitable; if Constantine had managed to stave off the Ottoman siege it would only have been a matter of time before another assault succeeded. For those who cared to look, the fall of Constantinople or the capture of Istanbul – depending on religious perspective – was largely the symbolic recognition of an established fact: that the Ottomans were a world power, firmly established in Europe. Few were that close. Even the Venetians, with their spies and their endless flow of diplomatic information back to the Senate, were largely unaware of the military capabilities available to Mehmet. ‘Our Senators would not believe that the Turks could bring a fleet against Constantinople,’ remarked Marco Barbaro on the tardiness of the Venetian rescue effort. Nor had they understood the power of the guns or the determination and resourcefulness of Mehmet himself. What the capture of the city underlined was the extent to which the balance of power had already shifted in the Mediterranean – and clarified the threat to a host of Christian interests and nations that Constantinople, as a buffer zone, had encouraged them to ignore.

Throughout the Christian world the consequences were religious, military, economic and psychological. At once the terrible image of Mehmet and his ambitions were drawn into sharp focus for the Greeks, the Venetians, the Genoese, the Pope in Rome, the Hungarians, the Wallachians and all the peoples of the Balkans. The implacable figure of the Great Turk and his insatiable desire to be the Alexander of the age were projected wildly onto the screen of the European imagination. One source has the Conqueror entering the city with the words ‘I thank Muhammad who has given us this splendid victory; but I pray that he will permit me to live long enough to capture and subjugate Old Rome as I have New Rome.’ This belief was not without foundation. In Mehmet’s imagination, the seat of the Red Apple had now moved westward – from Constantinople to Rome. Long before Ottoman armies invaded Italy they went into battle with the cry ‘Roma! Roma!’ Step by step the very incarnation of the Antichrist seemed to be moving inexorably against the Christian world. In the years following 1453, he would snuff out the Black Sea colonies of the Genoese and the Greeks one after another: Sinop, Trebizond and Kaffa all fell. In 1462 he invaded Wallachia, the following year Bosnia. The Morea fell under Ottoman rule in 1464. In 1474 he was in Albania, 1476 in Moldavia – the rolling tide of the Ottoman advance seemed irreversible. Its troops failed to take Rhodes in a famous siege in 1480 but it was only a temporary setback. The Venetians had more to fear than most: war with Mehmet opened in 1463 and ran for fifteen years – it was to be just the overture to a titanic contest. During this time they lost their prize trading-post at Negroponte, and worse: in 1477 Ottoman raiders plundered the hinterlands of the city; they came so near that the smoke of their fires could be seen from the campanile of St Mark’s. Venice could feel the hot breath of Islam on its collar. ‘The enemy is at our gates!’ wrote Celso Maffei to the Doge. ‘The axe is at the root. Unless divine help comes, the doom of the Christian name is sealed.’ In July 1481 the Ottomans finally landed an army on the heel of Italy to march on Rome. When they took Otranto, the archbishop was felled at the altar of his cathedral, 12,000 citizens were put to death. In Rome the Pope considered flight and the people panicked, but at this moment news of Mehmet’s death reached the army and the Italian campaign collapsed.

Under the impetus of the fall of Constantinople, popes and cardinals tried to breathe life back into the project of religious crusades that continued well into the sixteenth century. Pope Pius II, for whom the whole Christian culture was at stake, set the tone when he convened a congress at Mantua in 1459 to unify the fractious nations of Christendom. In a ringing speech that lasted two hours he outlined the situation in the bleakest terms:

We ourselves allowed Constantinople, the capital of the east, to be conquered by the Turks. And while we sit at home in ease and idleness, the arms of these barbarians are advancing to the Danube and the Sava. In the Eastern imperial city they have massacred the successor of Constantine along with his people, desecrated the temples of the Lord, sullied the noble edifice of Justinian with the hideous cult of Muhammad; they have destroyed the images of the mother of God and other saints, overturned the altars, cast the relics of the martyrs to the swine, killed the priests, dishonored women and young girls, even the virgins dedicated to the Lord, slaughtered the nobles of the city at the sultan’s banquet, carried off the image of our crucified Saviour to their camp with scorn and mockery amid cries of ‘That is the God of the Christians!’ and befouled it with mud and spittle. All this happened beneath our very eyes, but we lie in a deep sleep … Mehmet will never lay down arms except in victory or total defeat. Every victory will be for him a stepping-stone to another, until, after subjecting all the princes of the West, he has destroyed the Gospel of Christ and imposed the law of his false prophet upon the whole world.

Despite numerous attempts, such impassioned words failed to provoke practical action, just as the project to save Constantinople itself had failed. The powers of Europe were too jealous, too disunited – and in some senses too secular – ever to combine in the name of Christendom again: it was even rumoured that the Venetians had been complicit in the landing at Otranto. However it did reinvigorate deep European fears about Islam. It would be another two hundred years before the advance of the Ottomans into Europe was definitely halted, in 1683, at the gates of Vienna; in the interval Christianity and Islam would wage a long-running war, both hot and cold, that would linger long in the racial memory and that formed a long link in the chain of events between the two faiths. The fall of Constantinople had awakened in Islam and Europe deep memories of the crusades. The Ottoman peril was seen as the continuation of the perceived assault of Islam on the Christian world; the word ‘Turk’ replaced the word ‘Saracen’ as the generic term for a Muslim – and with it came all the connotations of a cruel and implacable opponent. Both sides saw themselves engaged in a struggle for survival against a foe intent on destroying the world. It was the prototype of global ideological conflict. The Ottomans kept the spirit of jihad alive, now linked to their sense of imperial mission. Within the Muslim heartlands the belief in the superiority of Islam was rejuvenated. The legend of the Red Apple had enormous currency; after Rome it attached successively to Budapest, then Vienna. Beyond these literal destinations, it was the symbol of messianic belief in the final victory of the Faith. Within Europe, the image of the Turk became synonymous with all that was faithless and cruel. By 1536 the word was in use in English to mean, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘anyone behaving as a barbarian or savage’. And what added fuel to these attitudes was a discovery that typified the very spirit of Renaissance enlightenment – the invention of printing.

The fall of Constantinople happened on the cusp of a revolution – the moment that the runaway train of scientific discovery started to gather speed in the West at the expense of religion. Some of these forces were at play in the siege itself: the impact of gunpowder, the superiority of sailing ships, the end of medieval siege warfare; the next seventy years would bring Europe, amongst other things, gold fillings in teeth, the pocket watch and the astrolabe, navigation manuals, syphilis, the New Testament in translation, Copernicus and Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus and Luther – and movable type.

Gutenberg’s invention revolutionized mass communications and spread new ideas about the holy war with Islam. A huge corpus of crusader and anti-Islamic literature poured off the presses of Europe in the next 150 years. One of the earliest surviving examples of modern printing is the indulgence granted by Nicholas V in 1451 to raise money for the relief of Cyprus from the Turks. Thousands of copies of such documents appeared across Europe along with crusader appeals and broadsheets – forerunners of modern newspapers – that spread news about the war against ‘the damnable menace of the Grand Turk of the infidels’. An explosion of books followed – in France alone, eighty books were published on the Ottomans between 1480 and 1609, compared to forty on the Americas. When Richard Knolles wrote his bestseller The General History of the Turks in 1603, there was already a healthy literature in English on the people he called ‘the present terror of the world’. These works had suggestive titles: The Turks’ Wars, A Notable History of the Saracens, A Discourse on the Bloody and Cruel Battle lost by Sultan Selim, True News of a Notable Victory obtained against the Turk, The Estate of Christians living under the Subjection of the Turk – the flood of information was endless.

Othello was engaged in fighting the world war of the day – against the ‘general enemy Ottoman’, the ‘malignant and turbaned Turk’ – and for the first time, Christians far from the Muslim world could see woodcut images of their enemy in highly influential illustrated books such as Bartholomew Georgevich’s Miseries and Tribulations of the Christians held in Tribute and Slavery by the Turk. These showed ferocious battles between armoured knights and turbaned Muslims, and all the barbarism of the infidel: Turks beheading prisoners, leading off long lines of captive women and children, riding with babies spitted on their lances. The conflict with the Turk was widely understood to be the continuation of a much longer-running contest with Islam – a thousand year struggle for the truth. Its features and causes were exhaustively studied in the West. Thomas Brightman, writing in 1644, declared that the Saracens were ‘the first troop of locusts … about the year 630’ who were succeeded by ‘the Turks, a brood of vipers, worse than their parent, [who] did utterly destroy the Saracens their mother’. Somehow the conflict with Islam was always different: deeper, more threatening, closer to nightmare.

It is certainly true that Europe had much to fear from the wealthier, more powerful and better organized Ottoman Empire in the two hundred years after Constantinople, yet the image of its opponent, conceived largely in religious terms at a time when the idea of Christendom itself was dying, was highly partial. The inside and the outside of the Ottoman world presented two different faces, and nowhere was this clearer than in Constantinople.

Sa’d-ud-din might declare that after the capture of Istanbul ‘the churches which were within the city were emptied of their vile idols, and cleansed from their filthy and idolatrous impurities’ – but the reality was rather different. The city that Mehmet rebuilt after the fall hardly conformed to the dread image of Islam that Christendom supposed. The sultan regarded himself not only as a Muslim ruler but as the heir to the Roman Empire and set about reconstructing a multicultural capital in which all citizens would have certain rights. He forcibly resettled both Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims back into the city, guaranteed the safety of the Genoese enclave at Galata and forbade any Turks to live there. The monk Gennadios, who had so fiercely resisted attempts at union, was rescued from slavery in Edirne and restored to the capital as patriarch of the Orthodox community with the formula: ‘Be Patriarch, with good fortune, and be assured of our friendship, keeping all the privileges that the Patriarchs before you enjoyed.’ The Christians were to live in their own neighbourhoods and to retain some of their churches, though under certain restrictions: they had to wear distinctive dress and were forbidden from bearing arms – within the context of the times it was a policy of remarkable tolerance. At the other end of the Mediterranean, the final reconquest of Spain by the Catholic kings in 1492 resulted in the forced conversion or expulsion of all the Muslims and Jews. The Spanish Jews themselves were encouraged to migrate to the Ottoman Empire – ‘the refuge of the world’ – where, within the overall experience of Jewish exile, their reception was generally positive. ‘Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of,’ wrote one rabbi to his brethren in Europe. ‘We possess great fortunes, much gold and silver are in our hands. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes and our commerce is free and unhindered.’ Mehmet was to bear the brunt of considerable Islamic criticism for these policies. His son, the more pious Bayezit II, declared that his father ‘by the counsel of mischief makers and hypocrites’ had ‘infringed the Law of the Prophet’.

Although Constantinople would become a more Islamic city over the centuries, Mehmet set the tone for a place that was astonishingly multicultural, the model of the Levantine city. For those Westerners who looked beneath the crude stereotypes, there were plenty of surprises. When the German Arnold von Harff came in 1499 he was amazed to discover two Franciscan monasteries in Galata where the Catholic mass was still being celebrated. Those who knew the infidel up close were quite clear. ‘The Turks do not compel anyone to renounce his faith, do not try hard to persuade anyone and do not have a great opinion of renegades,’ wrote George of Hungary in the fifteenth century. It was a stark contrast to the religious wars that fragmented Europe during the Reformation. The flow of refugees after the fall would be largely one way: from the Christian lands to the Ottoman Empire. Mehmet himself was more interested in building a world empire than in converting that world to Islam.

The fall of Constantinople was a trauma for the West; not only had it dented the confidence of Christendom, it was also considered the tragic end of the classical world, ‘a second death for Homer and Plato’. And yet the fall also liberated the place from impoverishment, isolation and ruin. The city surrounded by ‘the garland of waters’, which Procopius had celebrated in the sixth century, now regained its old dash and energy as the capital of a rich and multicultural empire, straddling two worlds and a dozen trade routes; and the people whom the West believed to be tailed monsters spawned by the Apocalypse – ‘made up of a horse and a man’ – reincarnated a city of astonishment and beauty, different to the Christian City of Gold, but cast in equally glowing colours.

 Constantinople once again traded the goods of the world through the labyrinthine alleys of the covered bazaar and the Egyptian bazaar; camel trains and ships once more connected it to all the principal points of the Levant, but for sailors approaching from the Marmara, its horizon acquired a new shape. Alongside Aya Sofya, the hills of the city started to bubble with the grey leaded domes of mosques. White minarets as thin as needles and as fat as pencils, grooved and fluted and hung with tiers of delicately traceried balconies, punctuated the city skyline. A succession of brilliant mosque architects created, under sprung domes, abstract and timeless spaces: interiors of calm light, tiled with intricate geometric patterns and calligraphy and stylized flowers whose sensuous colours – crisp tomato and turquoise and celadon and the clearest blue from the depths of the sea – created ‘a reflection of the infinite garden of delight’ promised in the Koran.

Ottoman Istanbul was a city that lived vividly in the eye and the ear – a place of wooden houses and cypress trees, street fountains and gardens, graceful tombs and subterranean bazaars, of noise and bustle and manufacture, where each occupation and ethnic group had its quarter, and all the races of the Levant in their distinctive garb and headdresses worked and traded, where the sea could be suddenly glimpsed, shimmering at the turn of a street or from the terrace of a mosque, and the call to prayer, rising from a dozen minarets, mapped the city from end to end and from dawn to dusk as intimately as the street cries of the local traders. Behind the forbidding walls of the Topkapi palace, the Ottoman sultans created their own echo of the Alhambra and Isfahan in a series of fragile, tiled pavilions more like solid tents than buildings, set in elaborate gardens, from which they could look out over the Bosphorus and the Asian hills. Ottoman art, architecture and ceremonial created a rich visual world that held as much astonishment for Western visitors as Christian Constantinople had done before it. ‘I beheld the prospect of that little world, the great city of Constantinople,’ wrote Edward Lithgow in 1640, ‘which indeed yields such an outward splendor to the amazed beholder … whereof now the world makes so great account that the whole earth cannot equal it.’

Nowhere is the sensuous texture of Ottoman Istanbul recorded more vividly than in the endless succession of miniatures in which sultans celebrated their triumphs. It is a joyous world of primary colour patterned flat and without perspective, like the decorative devices on tiles and carpets. Here are court presentations and banquets, battles and sieges, beheadings, processions and festivities, tents and banners, fountains and palaces, elaborately worked kaftans and armour and beautiful horses. It is a world in love with ceremony, noise and light. There are ram fights, tumblers, kebab cooks and firework displays, massed Janissary bands that thump and toot and crash their way soundlessly across the page in a blare of red, tight-rope walkers crossing the Horn on ropes suspended from the masts of ships, cavalry squadrons in white turbans riding past elaborately patterned tents, maps of the city as bright as jewels, and all the visible exuberance of paint: vivid red, orange, royal blue, lilac, lemon, chestnut, grey, pink, emerald and gold. The world of the miniatures seems to express both joy and pride in the Ottoman achievement, the breathtaking ascent from tribe to empire in two hundred years, an echo of the words once written by the Seljuk Turks over a doorway in the holy city of Konya: ‘What I have created is unrivalled throughout the world.’

In 1599 Queen Elizabeth I of England sent Sultan Mehmet III an organ as a gift of friendship. It was accompanied by its maker, Thomas Dallam, to play the instrument for the Ottoman ruler. When the master musician was led through the successive courts of the palace and into the presence of the sultan, he was so dazzled by the ceremonial that ‘the sight whereof did make me almost to think that I was in another world’. Visitors had been emitting exactly the same gasps of astonishment since Constantine the Great founded the second Rome and the second Jerusalem in the fourth century. ‘It seems to me’, wrote the Frenchman Pierre Gilles in the sixteenth century, ‘that while other cities are mortal, this one will remain as long as there are men on earth.’