Serbia and the Ottoman Empire: The Loss and Recuperation of Independence

Serbia and the Ottoman Empire: The Loss and Recuperation of Independence

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During the second half of the 14th century, the Ottoman Empire was extending its rule into the Balkans. One of the regional powers that the Ottomans encountered during their conquest of the Balkans was the Serbian Empire, which was established by Stefan Dušan, ‘the Mighty’ of the Nemanjić Dynasty during the first half of the same century.

The Serbian State During the Middle Ages

The history of the state of Serbia may be said to have its beginnings in the Middle Ages. Between the 6th and 11th centuries AD, the Slavic ‘invasion’ of the Balkans brought the Serbs into this region. During these early years, there was no unified Serbian state, but a number of tribes. It was under the Nemanjić Dynasty in the 13th century than Serbia rose as a dominant power in the Balkans, and achieved its golden age under Stefan Dušan .

Following Stefan Dušan’s death in 1355, the throne passed to his son, Stefan Uroš V, ‘the Weak.’ This was the beginning of the decline of the Serbian Empire, which would eventually be conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and would remain occupied by this power until the 19th century.

Fresco of Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan. (14th Century), Lesnovo Monastery, Republic of Macedonia. and his son Stefan Uroš V of Serbia.

The Battles with the Ottoman Empire

There were two crucial battles in the Ottoman conquest of the Serbian Empire. The first of these was the Battle of Maritsa that took place in 1371. During this battle, the numerically superior Serbian army was defeated by a much smaller Ottoman army as a result of the latter’s use of superior tactics. During the battle, Vukašin Mrnjavčević, the King of the Serbs and Greeks, and the co-ruler of Emperor Stefan Uroš V, was killed along with his brother, despot Uglješa. The loss of this battle led to the conquest of Macedonia and parts of Greece by the Ottomans.

The second, and perhaps more famous battle, was the Battle of Kosovo, which took place in 1389. Although the Nemanjić Dynasty came to an end after the death of Emperor Stefan Uroš V (who left no heir) several months after the Battle of Maritsa, it was not the end for the Serbs. There were still feudal lords holding power in the Empire, and one of the most powerful of these was Lazar Hrebeljanović. Prince Lazar was able to unite most of Serbia, and prepared to face the invading Ottomans.

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The Battle of Kosovo is regarded today as tactically inconclusive and both the Serbs and the Ottomans sustained heavy losses. Amongst the dead were Prince Lazar and Sultan Murad I. According to one account, a Serbian knight by the name of Miloš Obilić stabbed the sultan whilst kneeling in submission.

Miloš Obilić, a Serbian knight that allegedly stabbed Sultan Murad I during the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. (1861) by Aleksandar Dobrić. Belgrade National Museum.

Nevertheless, the Serbs fared much worse in comparison to the Ottomans in the aftermath of the battle. The Serbians were left without an army to defend their lands, though the Ottomans still had a large amount of troops in the east. Additionally, many of the Serbian leaders, including Lazar’s successor, became Ottoman vassals. Serbia eventually lost its independence in 1459.

Serbian Life Under Ottoman Rule

It has been said that the Serbs suffered immensely under Ottoman rule. Determined to exterminate the social elite, the Ottomans persecuted the Serbian aristocracy. Additionally, it has been claimed that the Christian Serbs lived as “virtual bond servants – abused, humiliated and exploited” under the rule of their Muslim overlords. As a result, the cities were gradually abandoned, and many of the inhabitants withdrew to the mountains, where they adopted a pastoral lifestyle.

Christian Europe was not of much help to the Serbs. Instead, as they were constantly at war against the Ottomans, the Serbs became a pawn in their game. These powers often sought to incite the Serbians to rebel against their masters, though such uprisings often ended in failure.

Painting depicting the burning of Saint Sava's remains. When this event took place following the Banat Uprising, Serbs in other regions were incited to revolt against the Ottomans as well.

Serbia’s Independence

The year 1804 marked the beginning of a series of revolts that would lead to Serbia’s independence from Ottoman rule in 1878. During the early years of the uprising, a small autonomous Serbian principality was established by Prince Milos Obrenovic. Milos’ descendants ruled over this new principality for the following decades, and the Serbian leaders were able to consolidate their power. Finally, between 1876 and 1878, the Serbs fought a war with the Ottomans, which ended in regaining their full independence.

Featured image: A painting depicting the Battle of Kosovo (1870) by Adam Stefanović. Prince Lazar is seen dying with his horse at the left. Photo source:

By: Ḏḥwty

The empire from 1807 to 1920

The triumph of the anti-reform coalition that had overthrown Selim III was interrupted in 1808 when the surviving reformers within the higher bureaucracy found support among the ayans of Rumelia (Ottoman possessions in the Balkans), who were worried by possible threats to their own position. The ayans were led by Bayrakdar (“Standard Bearer”) Mustafa Paşa. The forces of Mustafa and the grand vizier Çelebi Mustafa Paşa together recovered Istanbul, deposed Mustafa IV, installed Mahmud II—the son of Abdülhamid I—as ruler, and recommenced some of the reforming policies that had been initiated by Selim.

The ayans took care to protect their own interests by securing a Covenant of Union, which defined and guaranteed their rights against the central government. Their victory, however, was short-lived. A further Janissary uprising in November 1808 led to the death of the Bayrakdar and to the reestablishment of conservative rule.

The Ottoman Empire

Only 80 years separate the modern Middle East from the forgotten and long-lived Ottoman Empire. Over a time span of six hundred years, from about 1300 to 1923, the Ottoman Empire expanded into the largest political entity in Europe and western Asia and then imploded and disappeared into the back pages of history. At its height, the Empire controlled much of southeastern Europe, most of the area of the present day Middle East, and parts of North Africa. In the 13th century, the region of Anatolia (most of the Asian part of present day Turkey) was controlled by the Byzantine Empire in the northwest and the Seljuk Turks in the southwest. Around 1290, Osman I (1258-1324), a Muslim warrior and leader of a small principality inside Seljuk Turk territory, declared his independence from the Seljuk sultan. The Ottoman Empire was founded. (Ottoman is derived from Uthman, the Arabic form of Osman.)

From its small bridgehead in Anatolia, Osman and his son Orhan (1288-1362) began expanding their lands northwest into Byzantine Empire territory and east into the rest of Anatolia. By 1481 the Ottoman Empire territory included most of the Balkan Peninsula and all of Anatolia. During the second great expansion period from 1481 to 1683, the Ottoman Turks conquered territory in Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), and Hungary. At its apogee, Suleiman the Magnificent (c. 1495-1566) ruled the Empire and oversaw important achievements of Ottoman culture. In 1683 the Turks attempted to continue their European expansion by attacking Vienna in July. The assault failed the slow decline of the Empire had begun. Problems within the army (over pay and recruitment) as well as government corruption and civil unrest were the main catalyst for the decline. Through a series of unsuccessful major conflicts and subsequent treaties the Empire lost most of its territory. Egypt was temporarily lost to Napoleon in 1798 then permanently lost in 1882. Greece was lost after the Greek War of Independence (1822-1827). War with Russia (1877-1878) resulted in the loss of more Balkan Territory.

The Empire tried to modernize its army and implement political and economic reform but it was too late. In 1908 the Young Turk movement, led by a coalition of nationalist groups, revolted against the authoritarian regime of the sultan and setup a constitutional government. In World War I the government joined forces with the Central Powers. When the Central Powers were defeated, the Ottoman Territory was greatly reduced and the borders were aligned roughly with present day Turkey. After the war, from the years 1919 and 1923, Mustafa Kemal led a national uprising (the Turkish War of Independence) against the last Ottoman sultan which laid the foundation of the new Turkish State and signaled the end of the Ottoman Empire. Selected sources: Cantor, Norman F. ed. The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. New York. 1999. O'Brien, Patrick K. general ed. Encyclopedia of World History. Facts on File. New York. 2000.

The First Balkan War ends

On May 30, 1913, a peace treaty is signed ending the First Balkan War, in which the newly aligned Slavic nations of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece had driven Turkish forces out of Macedonia, a territory of the Ottoman Empire located in the tumultuous Balkans region of southeastern Europe.

After rebellion in Macedonia—led by a secret society of nationalists known as the Young Turks—shook the stability of the sultan’s hold on Ottoman territory in Europe in 1908, the Austro-Hungarian empire acted quickly to annex the dual Balkan provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and to encourage Bulgaria, also under Turkish rule, to proclaim its independence. Austria-Hungary’s actions clearly upset the delicate balance of power in the Balkans. The small, boisterous monarchy of Serbia was outraged by the annexation, having long regarded Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of its own rightful territory due to their shared South Slavic heritage. Meanwhile, czarist Russia𠅊n important supporter of Serbia and the other great European power with influence in the Balkans region�lt its own interests threatened by its rival’s actions.

In the spring of 1912, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Greece, encouraged by Russia, aligned with the objective of taking control of some or all of the lands still occupied by the Ottoman Empire in Europe. Though the disparate Balkan peoples nursed intense hatreds of one another, they were compelled to join forces and act quickly in order to strike at Turkey—now ensnared in a war with Italy over territory in Libya—in its weakness. On October 8, 1912, Montenegro declared war on Turkey Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece followed suit on October 17.

Surprisingly, the Ottoman army was quickly and decisively defeated, as the Balkan forces drove the Turks from almost all of their territory in southeastern Europe over the course of a month. The great powers of Europe𠅋ritain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia—scrambled to exert control over the region in the wake of Turkey’s withdrawal, and a congress was convened with representatives of the belligerent nations in London in December 1912 to draw up post-war boundaries in the Balkans. Over the course of the next several months and 63 meetings, as well as renewed hostilities on the battlefield, an agreement was reached, and Macedonia was partitioned between the victors of the First Balkan War. Nevertheless, the peace reached was only tenuous, as Bulgaria felt cheated out of its rightful share by Serbia and Greece.

Exactly a month after the peace treaty was signed, on the night of June 29-30, Bulgaria turned against its former allies, Serbia and Greece, in a surprise attack ordered by King Ferdinand I without consultation with his own government. The attack led to the so-called Second Balkan War, in which Bulgaria was quickly defeated by forces from Serbia, Greece, Turkey and Romania. The Treaty of Bucharest, signed August 10, was negotiated by local states, rather than by the great powers. By its terms, Bulgaria lost a considerable amount of territory and Serbia and Greece received control of most of Macedonia.

Austria-Hungary, which had badly wanted to see Serbia crushed, was shocked and disappointed by the results of the two Balkan wars. Confident that first Turkey and then Bulgaria would prove victorious, Austria-Hungary had neglected to intervene in either conflict now, the Dual Monarchy became increasingly fearful—with reason—of the growing Slavic influence in the Balkans, the emergence of a powerful and ambitious Serbia, and what it would all mean for the future of its own declining empire.

By 1913, many in both Austria-Hungary and Germany𠅎specially within the countries’ military leadership—had decided that a preventive war against Serbia would be necessary to restore the empire’s prestige and power as Russia was almost certain to back Serbia in any such conflict, a third war in the Balkans would most likely proceed directly to a general European one, with Germany and Austria-Hungary facing off against Serbia, Russia, Russia’s primary ally, France, and possibly Britain. For the time being, however, both Kaiser Wilhelm, emperor of Germany, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, continued to see the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the Balkans question, though they disputed the means of achieving it. Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, by a Serbian nationalist, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, however, put an end to any such negotiations and toppled Europe, already teeming with unresolved conflict and irreconcilable differences between the great powers, headlong into the First World War.

Life in the Ottoman period

The period of Ottoman domination has been dismissed by earlier Serb historians as the centuries of “Turkish night,” but it remains significant for the manner in which it shaped Serb national consciousness and influenced the future development of the Serbian state.

Two centuries of military struggle for the control of the Balkan Peninsula had depopulated large tracts of the former Serb lands. Other peoples moved into these areas (either spontaneously or under Turkish sponsorship) their task was to till the land and support the spahis, a dispersed levy of armed horsemen on which the Ottoman feudal system depended. At the centre of the system was the sultan and his court—often referred to as “the Sublime Porte” (or simply “the Porte”)—based in Constantinople after its capture in 1453. The administrative structure of the system revolved around the extraction of revenues principally in order to support the court and its attendant military caste. All authority and the right to enjoy possessions were regarded as deriving from the sultan, who “leased” them to subordinates at his own will and to whom these rights reverted upon the death of the lessee. The most common leasing arrangement was the tımar. The tımarlı held the right to support themselves from taxes raised in their area. Typically, the holder of such a position was a spahi, who from the income of his territory was expected to support his forces in a state of readiness for the service of the sultan.

With some local exceptions, no attempt was made to spread Islam by the sword in the conquered territories. There was again a long and slow process of assimilation of sections of the Slavic-speaking population (including the aristocracy) to Islam. All Muslims were regarded as belonging to a single community of the faithful, the ummah, and any person could join the ruling group by converting to Islam. Each non-Muslim religious community was called a millet, and Ottoman administration recognized five such groups: Orthodox, Gregorian Armenian, Latin (Roman Catholic), Jewish, and Protestant. Each group was under the direction of its religious head. The Serbs, being Orthodox, had as their titular head the patriarch of Constantinople. With the passage of time, however, ethnic identity was recognized by the Ottoman authorities, and the patriarchate in Constantinople became a specifically Greek centre. The Serbs had their own patriarchate at Peć. Ecclesiastical authorities were expected to assume many civil functions, including administering justice, collecting taxes, and, later, providing education.

The Ottoman authorities would later rule through local knezes, who were Christian “princes” or “headmen.” A knez might act as a negotiator for taxation with the authorities, as a kind of justice of the peace, as an intermediary in the organization of labour obligations, or as a spokesman for the Christian population in dispute with the local aga or bey. In times of civil disturbance, despite the normal interdiction on the bearing of arms by Christians, a knez might even be responsible for raising detachments of loyal subjects to fight for the Porte. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the institution of the knez became one of the most important symbolic focuses and practical resources around which Christian resistance could grow.

The situation of the Christian reaya (literally “flock”) was not one of unmitigated oppression. Christians were exempted from military service, and in some regions the tax burden was lighter than it had been previously, although they were taxed more heavily than the Muslim population. It was even possible for subject peoples to rise within the system, provided that they converted, and there were several notable grand viziers of South Slav origin. One common route of advancement was the system of devşirme, which involved the periodic conscription of Christian boys between the ages of 10 and 20. The boys were taken to Constantinople, converted to Islam, and employed in a variety of posts. The most able would be trained for administrative positions, while the others joined the corps of Janissaries (Yeniçeri). The Janissary corps was an elite order of infantrymen that, as firearms became more significant in warfare, came to be the most effective part of the Ottoman military.

Ottoman territory was principally rural in character, the majority of the population living on small family farms or in pastoral communities that produced little marketable surplus. Towns were with very few exceptions small, and in the Serb lands their culture was shaped by non-Serb groups, such as the Turks (in military, administrative, or craft occupations) and, in commerce, the Greeks, Ragusans, Vlachs, or Jews. The Ottoman authorities did little to promote trade or manufacturing, with the significant exception of encouraging the production of provisions for the army or Constantinople. Literacy was generally confined to the clergy. As a consequence, the majority of the population remained differentiated into local peasant communities characterized by their own dialects, dress, and customs.

The Ottoman Empire - History

Montenegro, or, in the language of the natives, Czernagora, or, in Turkish, Kara Dagh, meaning in all forms Black Mountain, may be mentioned incidentally as separating the Turkish vilayets, Ochrida and Hersek. On the downfall of Servia in 1389 it became independent, or some scattered fragments of the Slavic army defeated at Kossovo maintained their independence, in the fastnesses of the Black Mountain, against the Turks. Prince Ivan Crnojevic had to accept Ottoman sovereignty in the late 15th century. They were, however, a thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire ever since - sometimes subject, at other times independent, and always troublesome.

In more than a few instances, the first Ottoman conquest of a city did not decisively resolve matters. Murad III, who succeeded his father in 1575, was credited with Mesopotamia as far south as Mosul, won from the Persians but it was not till after the short and inglorious reigns of Mohammed III, Achmet I, and Mustapha I, that Murad IV resumed the role of conqueror, and by recovering Baghdad from the same hereditary foes in 1638 - when he cruelly massacred 30,000 of the surrendered garrison and inhabitants - completed the stretch of Ottoman dominion from the Black Sea to the Gulf. With the exception of Crete, which, after a tedious siege of more than twenty years, was captured by the Grand Vizier Achmet Kiuprili in 1669, this was the last Turkish conquest made out of Europe, for although the actual subjection of Kurdistan and the recovery of Yemen have been the work of the 19th Century, both these provinces had ranked as Ottoman territory since much remoter dates. Similarly, though the Taurus Turcomans of the Kozan-dagh and the Ghiaour-dagh enjoyed a sort of feudal independence down to 1863, the Sultan's firman "ran" through all Caramania since Adana and Selefkeh fell to Bayazid. Towards the close of the 17th century, when the Crescent had already passed its military zenith, several points were colonized on the Circassian coasts - at Gelandjik, Soukoum-Kale, Anapa, and elsewhere - but, although the Porte afterwards based on the possession of these stations a claim to sovereignty over the whole coast, their real object was to facilitate and regulate the white slave traffic on which the harems of Byzantium and of Stamboul had alike depended for their supplies.

Thus, on the foundation laid by a petty chieftain with a smaller following than that of many a Kurdish or Arab sheikh of the present day, was built up, in Asia alone, an empire larger than Spain, France and Austria combined. From the Bosphorus to Georgia, and from the eastern corner of the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf, Ottoman power was supreme, or disputed only by a few barbarous tribes. After a century, however, the ebb in this long tide of conquest began.

The loss of Hungary by the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 marked the beginning of the long decline of the Ottoman Empire. In 1738, Nadir Shah recovered Georgia, Erivan, Azerbijan, Kermanshah, and the other districts in Persia which had been in turn absorbed, and established substantially the border that has since divided the two countries. Fifty-four years later, the treaty of Jassy surrendered to Russia the Crimea and the Kuban, with such rights as the Porte claimed to have over the rest of the Circassian seaboard. The war of 1829 further gave the Czar Akhaltsik and the slice of country inclosing it, from Gumri to the Rhion, and pushed the Caucasian frontier westwards from close behind Ani to the near neighborhood of Batoum. To this the treaty of Berlin added Kars, with Ardahan, Olti, Atvin, and Batoum itself. The Turks were, however, driven out of Yemen in 1630 by a native Imauin called Khasim, whose successors held the province till 1870, when the Porte despatched an army from Syria, and reconquered the whole down to Bab-el-Mandeb.

Serbia and the Ottoman Empire: The Loss and Recuperation of Independence - History

Shifting European balance of power

To better understand the shift in this balance of power, let's look at four 19th Century regions that were largely responsible for the trouble brewing in Europe:

Region #1: Western Europe

By 1810, Napoleon's French Empire extended over much of Western Europe. But by 1815, Napoleon was defeated and lost his empire at the Congress of Vienna. The result was a change in the balance of power in Western Europe. By 1825, the new German Confederation and Austria had grown at the expense of France.

In 1878, after yet another war - this time the Franco-Prussian War - and the peace signed Congress of Berlin, six major powers emerged as shown in the map: Great Britain, the German Empire, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Italy. At the same time these powers were consolidating their empires, another prominent region - the Ottoman Empire - began to experience a loss of power.

Region #2: The Ottoman Empire

Between 1330 and 1699, the Ottoman Empire grew from a tiny kingdom of Ottoman Turks to one of the largest empires in the world.

  • Beginning in 1807, however, the Ottoman Empire entered into a period of steep decline - a decline largely due to the growth of Western European empires an the independence movements within some of its colonized regions.
  • Its decline began in the early 1800s with minor losss to Russia - Bessarabia in 1812 Abhazia in 1829, and Achalzich in 1829.
  • This decline continued for the next 40 years with the loss of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro which were annexed to the Austo-Hungarian Empire while Serbia and Romania gained their independence in 1878. Following soon thereafter were Greece, Moldavia, and parts of Romania.

When examining these maps, it should be clear that Austro-Hungary and Russia expanded at the expense of the Ottoman Empire - a fact that leads us to a discussion of the last two regions responsible for the events leading us into World War II - the Balkans and Russia.

Region #3: The Balkans

The Balkans include the area that today incorporates lands that were once largely sovereign but came under Ottoman rule after 1699 - Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzgovinia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.

In these maps, you can see the geopolitical significance of the Balkan region - it serves as a land bridge between Europe and Asia, as well as the water route from the Mediteranean to the Black Sea. Consequently, the Balkans have undergone continual foreign invaasions since the beginning of the recorded history of the region.

Historically, the Balkan region consisted of small ethnic nations - most of which were independent at some time in their history - and all of which have sought sovereignty. Let's get a snapshot of what this was like in Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia. The map below shows that by 950, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Serbia were all independent, sovereign entities.

Croatia - became the first independent Balkan state in 925.

  • In 1102, Croatia joined a union with Hungary
  • in 1526, it was subsumed by the Hapsbug Monarchy
  • in 1592, it was partially conquered by the Ottomans
  • in 1699, it was under Austrian control with semi-autonomous powers and
  • in 1868, Croatia was merged into the Hungarian-ruled part of Austria-Hungary.

Bulgaria - was an independent empire from 632-1396

  • In 1396, it became part of the Ottoman Empire
  • in 1878, it became a small principality with autonomous powers
  • in 1908, it declared independence and
  • between 1912-1913, Bulgaria was involved in the Balkan Wars and its empire expanded.

Serbia - became an independent state in 927

  • In 1389, Serbia became part of the Ottoman Empire
  • in 1882, it gained independence as the Kingdom of Serbia
  • in 1912, Serbia was involved in the Balkan Wars when it declared war on the Ottoman Empire followed by Bulgaria and Greece.
  • by 1913, the Kingdom of Serbia doubled its territory but lost outlets to the Adriatic Sea and Aegean Sea due to Austrian intervention.

Bosnia - became an independent kingdom in 1377

  • Before 1377, Bosnia was part of the kingdoms of Serbia and Croatia and then later fell to the Kingdom of Hungary.
  • In 1463, Bosnia became part of the Ottoman Empire
  • in 1483, the southern region of Bosnia which is currently known as Herzegovina, became part of the Ottoman Empire
  • in 1878, it was under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and
  • in 1908, the Austo-Hungarian Empire officially annexed the area known as Bosnia-Herzgovina.

As the map below indicates, this is what the Balkan region looked like on the eve of World War I.

Region #4: The Russian Empire

By the middle of the 19th Century, the Russian Empire under Tsar Alexander II took Outer Manchuria from the Chinese Empire and sold Russian America to the United States in 1867.

It wasn’t cohesive enough. 

At its apex, the Ottoman empire included Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Macedonia, Romania, Syria, parts of Arabia and the north coast of Africa. Even if outside powers hadn’t eventually undermined the empire, Reynolds doesn’t think that it could have remained intact and evolved into a modern democratic nation. “The odds probably would have been against it, because of the empire’s tremendous diversity in terms of ethnicity, language, economics, and geography,” he says. “Homogenous societies democratize more easily than heterogenous ones.”

The various peoples who were part of the empire grew more and more rebellious, and by the 1870s, the empire had to allow Bulgaria and other countries to become independent, and ceded more and more territory. After losing the losing the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars to a coalition that included some of its former imperial possessions, the empire was forced to give up its remaining European territory.

The Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent in 1683. 

Peter Hermes Furian/Getty Images


Mehmed II was born on 30 March 1432, in Edirne, then the capital city of the Ottoman state. His father was Sultan Murad II (1404–1451) and his mother Hüma Hatun, a slave of uncertain origin. [5] [6] [7]

When Mehmed II was eleven years old he was sent to Amasya with his two lalas (advisors) to govern and thus gain experience, per the custom of Ottoman rulers before his time. [7] Sultan Murad II also sent a number of teachers for him to study under. This Islamic education had a great impact in molding Mehmed's mindset and reinforcing his Muslim beliefs. He was influenced in his practice of Islamic epistemology by practitioners of science, particularly by his mentor, Molla Gürani, and he followed their approach. The influence of Akshamsaddin in Mehmed's life became predominant from a young age, especially in the imperative of fulfilling his Islamic duty to overthrow the Byzantine empire by conquering Constantinople. [ citation needed ]

After Murad II made peace with Hungary on June 12, 1444, [8] he abdicated the throne to his 12-year-old son Mehmed II in July [9] /August [8] 1444.

In Mehmed II's first reign, he defeated the crusade led by John Hunyadi after the Hungarian incursions into his country broke the conditions of the truce Peace of Szeged in September 1444. [8] Cardinal Julian Cesarini, the representative of the Pope, had convinced the king of Hungary that breaking the truce with Muslims was not a betrayal. [ citation needed ] At this time Mehmed II asked his father Murad II to reclaim the throne, but Murad II refused. According to the 17th-century chronicles, [10] Mehmed II wrote, "If you are the sultan, come and lead your armies. If I am the sultan I hereby order you to come and lead my armies." Then, Murad II led the Ottoman army and won the Battle of Varna on 10 November 1444. [8] Halil Inalcik states that Mehmed II did not ask for his father. Instead, it was Çandarlı Halil Pasha's effort to bring Murad II back to the throne. [9] [10]

In 1446 Murad II returned to throne, Mehmed II retained the title of sultan but only acted as a governor of Manisa. Following death of Murad II in 1451, Mehmed II became sultan for second time. İbrahim Bey of Karaman invaded disputed area and instigated various revolts against Ottoman rule. Mehmed II conducted first campaign against İbrahim of Karaman Byzantines threatened to release Ottoman claimant Orhan. [8]

When Mehmed II ascended the throne again in 1451 he devoted himself to strengthening the Ottoman navy and made preparations for an attack on Constantinople. In the narrow Bosphorus Straits, the fortress Anadoluhisarı had been built by his great-grandfather Bayezid I on the Asian side Mehmed erected an even stronger fortress called Rumelihisarı on the European side, and thus gained complete control of the strait. Having completed his fortresses, Mehmed proceeded to levy a toll on ships passing within reach of their cannon. A Venetian vessel ignoring signals to stop was sunk with a single shot and all the surviving sailors beheaded, [12] except for the captain, who was impaled and mounted as a human scarecrow as a warning to further sailors on the strait. [13]

Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the companion and standard bearer of Muhammad, had died during the first Siege of Constantinople (674–678). As Mehmed II's army approached Constantinople, Mehmed's sheikh Akshamsaddin [14] discovered the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari. After the conquest, Mehmed built Eyüp Sultan Mosque at the site to emphasize the importance of the conquest to the Islamic world and highlight his role as ghazi. [14]

In 1453 Mehmed commenced the siege of Constantinople with an army between 80,000 and 200,000 troops, an artillery train of over seventy large field pieces, [15] and a navy of 320 vessels, the bulk of them transports and storeships. The city was surrounded by sea and land the fleet at the entrance of the Bosphorus stretched from shore to shore in the form of a crescent, to intercept or repel any assistance for Constantinople from the sea. [12] In early April, the Siege of Constantinople began. At first, the city's walls held off the Turks, even though Mehmed's army used the new bombard designed by Orban, a giant cannon similar to the Dardanelles Gun. The harbor of the Golden Horn was blocked by a boom chain and defended by twenty-eight warships.

On 22 April, Mehmed transported his lighter warships overland, around the Genoese colony of Galata, and into the Golden Horn's northern shore eighty galleys were transported from the Bosphorus after paving a route, little over one mile, with wood. Thus the Byzantines stretched their troops over a longer portion of the walls. About a month later, Constantinople fell, on 29 May, following a fifty-seven-day siege. [12] After this conquest, Mehmed moved the Ottoman capital from Adrianople to Constantinople.

When Sultan Mehmed II stepped into the ruins of the Boukoleon, known to the Ottomans and Persians as the Palace of the Caesars, probably built over a thousand years before by Theodosius II, he uttered the famous lines of Saadi: [16] [17] [18] [19]

The spider is curtain-bearer in the palace of Chosroes,
The owl sounds the relief in the castle of Afrasiyab.

Some Muslim scholars claimed that a hadith in Musnad Ahmad referred specifically to Mehmed's conquest of Constantinople, seeing it as the fulfillment of a prophecy and a sign of the approaching apocalypse. [20]

After the conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed claimed the title of caesar of the Roman Empire (Qayser-i Rûm), based on the assertion that Constantinople had been the seat and capital of the Roman Empire since 330 AD, and whoever possessed the Imperial capital was the ruler of the Empire. [21] The contemporary scholar George of Trebizond supported his claim. [22] [23] The claim was not recognized by the Catholic Church and most of, if not all, Western Europe, but was recognized by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Mehmed had installed Gennadius Scholarius, a staunch antagonist of the West, as the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople with all the ceremonial elements, ethnarch (or milletbashi) status and rights of property that made him the second largest landlord in the said empire by the sultan himself in 1454, and in turn Gennadius II recognized Mehmed the Conqueror as successor to the throne. [24] [25]

Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos died without producing an heir, and had Constantinople not fallen to the Ottomans he likely would have been succeeded by the sons of his deceased elder brother. Those children were taken into the palace service of Mehmed after the fall of Constantinople. The oldest boy, renamed Has Murad, became a personal favorite of Mehmed and served as beylerbey of the Balkans. The younger son, renamed Mesih Pasha, became admiral of the Ottoman fleet and sanjak-bey of the Gallipoli. He eventually served twice as Grand Vizier under Mehmed's son, Bayezid II. [26]

After the fall of Constantinople, Mehmed would also go on to conquer the Despotate of Morea in the Peloponnese in 1460, and the Empire of Trebizond in northeastern Anatolia in 1461. The last two vestiges of Byzantine rule were thus absorbed by the Ottoman Empire. The conquest of Constantinople bestowed immense glory and prestige on the country. There is some historical evidence that, 10 years after the conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed II visited the site of Troy and boasted that he had avenged the Trojans by conquering the Greeks (Byzantines). [27] [28] [29]

Mehmed II's first campaigns after Constantinople were in the direction of Serbia, which had been an Ottoman vassal state since the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. The Ottoman ruler had a connection with the Serbian Despotate – one of Murad II's wives was Mara Branković – and he used that fact to claim some Serbian islands. That Đurađ Branković had recently made an alliance with the Hungarians, and had paid the tribute irregularly, may have been important considerations. When Serbia refused these demands, the Ottoman army set out from Edirne towards Serbia in 1454. Smederevo was besieged, as was Novo Brdo, the most important Serbian metal mining and smelting center. Ottomans and Hungarians fought during the years till 1456.

The Ottoman army advanced as far as Belgrade, where it attempted but failed to conquer the city from John Hunyadi at the Siege of Belgrade, on 14 July 1456. A period of relative peace ensued in the region until the Fall of Belgrade in 1521, during the reign of Mehmed's great-grandson, known as Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The sultan retreated to Edirne, and Đurađ Branković regained possession of some parts of Serbia. Before the end of the year, however, the 79-year-old Branković died. Serbian independence survived him for only two years, when the Ottoman Empire formally annexed his lands following dissension among his widow and three remaining sons. Lazar, the youngest, poisoned his mother and exiled his brothers, but he died soon afterwards. In the continuing turmoil the oldest brother Stefan Branković gained the throne but was ousted in March 1459. After that the Serbian throne was offered to Stephen Tomašević, the future king of Bosnia, which infuriated Sultan Mehmed. He sent his army, which captured Smederevo in June 1459, ending the existence of the Serbian Despotate. [30]

The Despotate of the Morea bordered the southern Ottoman Balkans. The Ottomans had already invaded the region under Murad II, destroying the Byzantine defenses – the Hexamilion wall – at the Isthmus of Corinth in 1446. Before the final siege of Constantinople Mehmed ordered Ottoman troops to attack the Morea. The despots, Demetrios Palaiologos and Thomas Palaiologos, brothers of the last emperor, failed to send any aid. Their own incompetence resulted in an Albanian-Greek revolt against them, during which they invited in Ottoman troops to help put down the revolt. [31] At this time, a number of influential Moreote Greeks and Albanians made private peace with Mehmed. [32] After more years of incompetent rule by the despots, their failure to pay their annual tribute to the Sultan, and finally their own revolt against Ottoman rule, Mehmed entered the Morea in May 1460. The capital Mistra fell exactly seven years after Constantinople, on 29 May 1460. Demetrios ended up a prisoner of the Ottomans and his younger brother Thomas fled. By the end of the summer, the Ottomans had achieved the submission of virtually all cities possessed by the Greeks.

A few holdouts remained for a time. The island of Monemvasia refused to surrender, and it was ruled for a brief time by a Catalan corsair. When the population drove him out they obtained the consent of Thomas to submit to the Pope's protection before the end of 1460. [33] The Mani Peninsula, on the Morea's south end, resisted under a loose coalition of local clans, and the area then came under the rule of Venice. The last holdout was Salmeniko, in the Morea's northwest. Graitzas Palaiologos was the military commander there, stationed at Salmeniko Castle (also known as Castle Orgia). While the town eventually surrendered, Graitzas and his garrison and some town residents held out in the castle until July 1461, when they escaped and reached Venetian territory. [34]

Emperors of Trebizond formed alliances through royal marriages with various Muslim rulers. Emperor John IV of Trebizond married his daughter to the son of his brother-in-law, Uzun Hasan, khan of the Ak Koyunlu, in return for his promise to defend Trebizond. He also secured promises of support from the Turkish beys of Sinope and Karamania, and from the king and princes of Georgia. The Ottomans were motivated to capture Trebizond or to get an annual tribute. In the time of Murad II they first attempted to take the capital by sea in 1442, but high surf made the landings difficult and the attempt was repulsed. While Mehmed II was away laying siege to Belgrade in 1456, the Ottoman governor of Amasya attacked Trebizond, and although he was defeated, he took many prisoners and extracted a heavy tribute.

After John's death in 1459, his brother David came to power and intrigued with various European powers for help against the Ottomans, speaking of wild schemes that included the conquest of Jerusalem. Mehmed II eventually heard of these intrigues and was further provoked to action by David's demand that Mehmed remit the tribute imposed on his brother.

Mehmed the Conqueror's response came in the summer of 1461. He led a sizable army from Bursa by land and the Ottoman navy by sea, first to Sinope, joining forces with Ismail's brother Ahmed (the Red). He captured Sinope and ended the official reign of the Jandarid dynasty, although he appointed Ahmed as the governor of Kastamonu and Sinope, only to revoke the appointment the same year. Various other members of the Jandarid dynasty were offered important functions throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire. During the march to Trebizond, Uzun Hasan sent his mother Sara Khatun as an ambassador while they were climbing the steep heights of Zigana on foot, she asked Sultan Mehmed why he was undergoing such hardship for the sake of Trebizond. Mehmed replied:

Mother, in my hand is the sword of Islam, without this hardship I should not deserve the name of ghazi, and today and tomorrow I should have to cover my face in shame before Allah. [35]

Having isolated Trebizond, Mehmed quickly swept down upon it before the inhabitants knew he was coming, and he placed it under siege. The city held out for a month before the emperor David surrendered on 15 August 1461.

The Ottomans since the early 15th century tried to bring Wallachia (Ottoman Turkish: والاچیا ‎) under their control by putting their own candidate on the throne, but each attempt ended in failure. The Ottomans regarded Wallachia as a buffer zone between them and the Kingdom of Hungary and for a yearly tribute did not meddle in their internal affairs. The two primary Balkan powers, Hungary and the Ottomans, maintained an enduring struggle to make Wallachia their own vassal. To prevent Wallachia from falling into the Hungarian fold, the Ottomans freed young Vlad III (Dracula), who had spent four years as a prisoner of Murad, together with his brother Radu, so that Vlad could claim the throne of Wallachia. His rule was short-lived, however, as Hunyadi invaded Wallachia and restored his ally Vladislav II, of the Dănești clan, to the throne.

Vlad III Dracula fled to Moldavia, where he lived under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II. In October 1451, Bogdan was assassinated and Vlad fled to Hungary. Impressed by Vlad's vast knowledge of the mindset and inner workings of the Ottoman Empire, as well as his hatred towards the Turks and new Sultan Mehmed II, Hunyadi reconciled with his former enemy and tried to make Vlad III his own adviser, but Vlad refused.

In 1456, three years after the Ottomans had conquered Constantinople, they threatened Hungary by besieging Belgrade. Hunyadi began a concerted counter-attack in Serbia: while he himself moved into Serbia and relieved the siege (before dying of the plague), Vlad III Dracula led his own contingent into Wallachia, reconquered his native land, and killed the impostor Vladislav II.

In 1459, Mehmed II sent envoys to Vlad to urge him to pay a delayed tribute [36] of 10,000 ducats and 500 recruits into the Ottoman forces. Vlad III Dracula refused and had the Ottoman envoys killed by nailing their turbans to their heads, on the pretext that they had refused to raise their "hats" to him, as they only removed their headgear before Allah.

Meanwhile, the Sultan sent the Bey of Nicopolis, Hamza Pasha, to make peace and, if necessary, eliminate Vlad III. [37] Vlad III set an ambush the Ottomans were surrounded and almost all of them caught and impaled, with Hamza Pasha impaled on the highest stake, as befit his rank. [37]

In the winter of 1462, Vlad III crossed the Danube and scorched the entire Bulgarian land in the area between Serbia and the Black Sea. Allegedly disguising himself as a Turkish Sipahi and utilizing his command of the Turkish language and customs, Vlad III infiltrated Ottoman camps, ambushed, massacred or captured several Ottoman forces. In a letter to Corvinus dated 2 February, he wrote:

I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers. Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him [Mehmed II]. [38] [ unreliable source ]

Mehmed II abandoned his siege of Corinth to launch a punitive attack against Vlad III in Wallachia [39] but suffered many casualties in a surprise night attack led by Vlad III Dracula, who was apparently bent on personally killing the Sultan. [40] It is said that when the forces of Mehmed the Conqueror and Radu the Handsome came to Târgoviste, they saw so many Turks impaled around the city that, appalled by the sight, Mehmed considered withdrawing but was convinced by his commanders to stay. However, Vlad's policy of staunch resistance against the Ottomans was not a popular one, and he was betrayed by the boyars's (local aristocracy) appeasing faction, most of them also pro-Dăneşti (a rival princely branch). His best friend and ally Stephen III of Moldavia, who had promised to help him, seized the chance and instead attacked him trying to take back the Fortress of Chilia. Vlad III had to retreat to the mountains. After this, the Ottomans captured the Wallachian capital Târgoviște and Mehmed II withdrew, having left Radu as ruler of Wallachia. Turahanoğlu Ömer Bey, who served with distinction and wiped out a force 6,000 Wallachians and deposited 2,000 of their heads at the feet of Mehmed II, was also reinstated, as a reward, in his old gubernatorial post in Thessaly. [41] Vlad eventually escaped to Hungary, where he was imprisoned on a false accusation of treason against his overlord, Matthias Corvinus.

The despot of Serbia, Lazar Branković, died in 1458, and a civil war broke out among his heirs that resulted in the Ottoman conquest of Serbia in 1459/1460. Stephen Tomašević, son of the king of Bosnia, tried to bring Serbia under his control, but Ottoman expeditions forced him to give up his plan and Stephen fled to Bosnia, seeking refuge at the court of his father. [42] After some battles, Bosnia became tributary kingdom to the Ottomans.

On 10 July 1461, Stephen Thomas died, and Stephen Tomašević succeeded him as King of Bosnia. In 1461, Stephen Tomašević made an alliance with the Hungarians and asked Pope Pius II for help in the face of an impending Ottoman invasion. In 1463, after a dispute over the tribute paid annually by the Bosnian Kingdom to the Ottomans, he sent for help from the Venetians. However, none ever reached Bosnia. In 1463, Sultan Mehmed II led an army into the country. The royal city of Bobovac soon fell, leaving Stephen Tomašević to retreat to Jajce and later to Ključ. Mehmed invaded Bosnia and conquered it very quickly, executing Stephen Tomašević and his uncle Radivoj. Bosnia officially fell in 1463 and became the westernmost province of the Ottoman Empire.

According to the Byzantine historian Michael Critobulus, hostilities broke out after an Albanian slave of the Ottoman commander of Athens fled to the Venetian fortress of Coron (Koroni) with 100,000 silver aspers from his master's treasure. The fugitive then converted to Christianity, so Ottoman demands for his rendition were refused by the Venetian authorities. [43] Using this as a pretext in November 1462, the Ottoman commander in central Greece, Turahanoğlu Ömer Bey, attacked and nearly succeeded in taking the strategically important Venetian fortress of Lepanto (Nafpaktos). On 3 April 1463, however, the governor of the Morea, Isa Beg, took the Venetian-held town of Argos by treason. [43]

The new alliance launched a two-pronged offensive against the Ottomans: a Venetian army, under the Captain General of the Sea Alvise Loredan, landed in the Morea, while Matthias Corvinus invaded Bosnia. [44] At the same time, Pius II began assembling an army at Ancona, hoping to lead it in person. [45] Negotiations were also begun with other rivals of the Ottomans, such as Karamanids, Uzun Hassan and the Crimean Khanate. [45]

In early August, the Venetians retook Argos and refortified the Isthmus of Corinth, restoring the Hexamilion wall and equipping it with many cannons. [46] They then proceeded to besiege the fortress of the Acrocorinth, which controlled the northwestern Peloponnese. The Venetians engaged in repeated clashes with the defenders and with Ömer Bey's forces, until they suffered a major defeat on 20 October and were then forced to lift the siege and retreat to the Hexamilion and to Nauplia (Nafplion). [46] In Bosnia, Matthias Corvinus seized over sixty fortified places and succeeded in taking its capital, Jajce, after a 3-month siege, on 16 December. [47]

Ottoman reaction was swift and decisive: Mehmed II dispatched his Grand Vizier, Mahmud Pasha Angelović, with an army against the Venetians. To confront the Venetian fleet, which had taken station outside the entrance of the Dardanelles Straits, the Sultan further ordered the creation of the new shipyard of Kadirga Limani in the Golden Horn (named after the "kadirga" type of galley), and of two forts to guard the Straits, Kilidulbahr and Sultaniye. [48] The Morean campaign was swiftly victorious for the Ottomans they razed the Hexamilion, and advanced into the Morea. Argos fell, and several forts and localities that had recognized Venetian authority reverted to their Ottoman allegiance.

Sultan Mehmed II, who was following Mahmud Pasha with another army to reinforce him, had reached Zeitounion (Lamia) before being apprised of his Vizier's success. Immediately, he turned his men north, towards Bosnia. [48] However, the Sultan's attempt to retake Jajce in July and August 1464 failed, with the Ottomans retreating hastily in the face of Corvinus' approaching army. A new Ottoman army under Mahmud Pasha then forced Corvinus to withdraw, but Jajce was not retaken for many years after. [47] However, the death of Pope Pius II on 15 August in Ancona spelled the end of the Crusade. [45] [49]

In the meantime, the Venetian Republic had appointed Sigismondo Malatesta for the upcoming campaign of 1464. He launched attacks against Ottoman forts and engaged in a failed siege of Mistra in August through October. Small-scale warfare continued on both sides, with raids and counter-raids, but a shortage of manpower and money meant that the Venetians remained largely confined to their fortified bases, while Ömer Bey's army roamed the countryside.

In the Aegean, the Venetians tried to take Lesbos in the spring of 1464, and besieged the capital Mytilene for six weeks, until the arrival of an Ottoman fleet under Mahmud Pasha on 18 May forced them to withdraw. [50] Another attempt to capture the island shortly after also failed. The Venetian navy spent the remainder of the year in ultimately fruitless demonstrations of force before the Dardanelles. [50] In early 1465, Mehmed II sent peace feelers to the Venetian Senate distrusting the Sultan's motives, these were rejected. [51]

In April 1466, the Venetian war effort was reinvigorated under Vettore Cappello: the fleet took the northern Aegean islands of Imbros, Thasos, and Samothrace, and then sailed into the Saronic Gulf. [52] On 12 July, Cappello landed at Piraeus and marched against Athens, the Ottomans' major regional base. He failed to take the Acropolis and was forced to retreat to Patras, the capital of Peloponnese and the seat of the Ottoman bey, which was being besieged by a joint force of Venetians and Greeks. [53] Before Cappello could arrive, and as the city seemed on the verge of falling, Ömer Bey suddenly appeared with 12,000 cavalry and drove the outnumbered besiegers off. Six hundred Venetians and a hundred Greeks were taken prisoner out of a force of 2,000, while Barbarigo himself was killed. [54] Cappello, who arrived some days later, attacked the Ottomans but was heavily defeated. Demoralized, he returned to Negroponte with the remains of his army. There Cappello fell ill and died on 13 March 1467. [55] In 1470 Mehmed personally led an Ottoman army to besiege Negroponte. The Venetian relief navy was defeated and Negroponte was captured.

In spring 1466, Sultan Mehmed marched with a large army against the Albanians. Under their leader, Skanderbeg, they had long resisted the Ottomans, and had repeatedly sought assistance from Italy. [44] Mehmed II responded by marching again against Albania but was unsuccessful. The winter brought an outbreak of plague, which would recur annually and sap the strength of the local resistance. [52] Skanderbeg himself died of malaria in the Venetian stronghold of Lissus (Lezhë), ending the ability of Venice to use the Albanian lords for its own advantage. [56] After Skanderbeg died, some Venetian-controlled northern Albanian garrisons continued to hold territories coveted by the Ottomans, such as Žabljak Crnojevića, Drisht, Lezhë, and Shkodra – the most significant. Mehmed II sent his armies to take Shkodra in 1474 [57] but failed. Then he went personally to lead the siege of Shkodra of 1478–79. The Venetians and Shkodrans resisted the assaults and continued to hold the fortress until Venice ceded Shkodra to the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of Constantinople as a condition of ending the war.

The agreement was established as a result of the Ottomans having reached the outskirts of Venice. Based on the terms of the treaty, the Venetians were allowed to keep Ulcinj, Antivan, and Durrës. However, they ceded Shkodra, which had been under Ottoman siege for many months, as well as other territories on the Dalmatian coastline, and they relinquished control of the Greek islands of Negroponte (Euboea) and Lemnos. Moreover, the Venetians were forced to pay 100,000 ducat indemnity [58] and agreed to a tribute of around 10,000 ducats per year in order to acquire trading privileges in the Black Sea. As a result of this treaty, Venice acquired a weakened position in the Levant. [59]

During the post-Seljuks era in the second half of the middle ages, numerous Turkmen principalities collectively known as Anatolian beyliks emerged in Anatolia. Karamanids initially centred around the modern provinces of Karaman and Konya, the most important power in Anatolia. But towards the end of the 14th century, Ottomans began to dominate on most of Anatolia, reducing the Karaman influence and prestige.

İbrahim II of Karaman was the ruler of Karaman, and during his last years, his sons began struggling for the throne. His heir apparent was İshak of Karaman, the governor of Silifke. But Pir Ahmet, a younger son, declared himself as the bey of Karaman in Konya. İbrahim escaped to a small city in western territories where he died in 1464. The competing claims to the throne resulted in an interregnum in the beylik. Nevertheless, with the help of Uzun Hasan, the sultan of the Akkoyunlu (White Sheep) Turkmens, İshak was able to ascend to the throne. His reign was short, however, as Pir Ahmet appealed to Sultan Mehmed II for help, offering Mehmed some territory that İshak refused to cede. With Ottoman help, Pir Ahmet defeated İshak in the battle of Dağpazarı. İshak had to be content with Silifke up to an unknown date. [60] Pir Ahmet kept his promise and ceded a part of the beylik to the Ottomans, but he was uneasy about the loss. So during the Ottoman campaign in the West, he recaptured his former territory. Mehmed returned, however, and captured both Karaman (Larende) and Konya in 1466. Pir Ahmet barely escaped to the East. A few years later, Ottoman vizier (later grand vizier) Gedik Ahmet Pasha captured the coastal region of the beylik. [61]

Pir Ahmet as well as his brother Kasım escaped to Uzun Hasan's territory. This gave Uzun Hasan a chance to interfere. In 1472, the Akkoyunlu army invaded and raided most of Anatolia (this was the reason behind the Battle of Otlukbeli in 1473). But then Mehmed led a successful campaign against Uzun Hasan in 1473 that resulted in the decisive victory of the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Otlukbeli. Before that, Pir Ahmet with Akkoyunlu help had captured Karaman. However Pir Ahmet couldn't enjoy another term. Because immediately after the capture of Karaman, the Akkoyunlu army was defeated by the Ottomans near Beyşehir and Pir Ahmet had to escape once more. Although he tried to continue his struggle, he learned that his family members had been transferred to İstanbul by Gedik Ahmet Pasha, so he finally gave up. Demoralized, he escaped to Akkoyunlu territory where he was given a tımar (fief) in Bayburt. He died in 1474. [62] [ better source needed ]

Uniting the Anatolian beyliks was first accomplished by Sultan Bayezid I, more than fifty years before Mehmed II but after the destructive Battle of Ankara in 1402, the newly formed unification was gone. Mehmed II recovered Ottoman power over the other Turkish states, and these conquests allowed him to push further into Europe.

Another important political entity that shaped the Eastern policy of Mehmed II were the White Sheep Turcomans. Under the leadership of Uzun Hasan, this kingdom gained power in the East but because of their strong relations with the Christian powers like the Empire of Trebizond and the Republic of Venice, and the alliance between the Turcomans and the Karamanid tribe, Mehmed saw them as a threat to his own power.

In 1456, Peter III Aaron agreed to pay the Ottomans an annual tribute of 2,000 gold ducats to ensure his southern borders, thus becoming the first Moldavian ruler to accept the Turkish demands. [63] His successor Stephen the Great rejected Ottoman suzerainty and a series of fierce wars ensued. [64] Stephen tried to bring Wallachia under his sphere of influence and so supported his own choice for the Wallachian throne. This resulted in an enduring struggle between different Wallachian rulers backed by Hungarians, Ottomans, and Stephen. An Ottoman army under Hadim Pasha (governor of Rumelia) was sent in 1475 to punish Stephen for his meddling in Wallachia however, the Ottomans suffered a great defeat at the Battle of Vaslui. Stephen inflicted a decisive defeat on the Ottomans, described as "the greatest ever secured by the Cross against Islam," [ by whom? ] with casualties, according to Venetian and Polish records, reaching beyond 40,000 on the Ottoman side. Mara Brankovic (Mara Hatun), the former younger wife of Murad II, told a Venetian envoy that the invasion had been worst ever defeat for the Ottomans. Stephen was later awarded the title "Athleta Christi" (Champion of Christ) by Pope Sixtus IV, who referred to him as "verus christianae fidei athleta" ("the true defender of the Christian faith"). Mehmed II assembled a large army and entered Moldavia in June 1476. Meanwhile, groups of Tartars from the Crimean Khanate (the Ottomans' recent ally) were sent to attack Moldavia. Romanian sources may state that they were repelled. [65] Other sources state that joint Ottoman and Crimean Tartar forces "occupied Bessarabia and took Akkerman, gaining control of the southern mouth of the Danube. Stephan tried to avoid open battle with the Ottomans by following a scorched-earth policy". [66]

Finally Stephen faced the Ottomans in battle. The Moldavians luring the main Ottoman forces into a forest that was set on fire, causing some casualties. According to another battle description, the defending Moldavian forces repelled several Ottoman attacks with steady fire from hand-guns. [67] The attacking Turkish Janissaries were forced to crouch on their stomachs instead of charging headlong into the defenders positions. Seeing the imminent defeat of his forces, Mehmed charged with his personal guard against the Moldavians, managing to rally the Janissaries, and turning the tide of the battle. Turkish Janissaries penetrated inside the forest and engaged the defenders in man-to-man fighting.

The Moldavian army was utterly defeated (casualties were very high on both sides), and the chronicles say that the entire battlefield was covered with the bones of the dead, a probable source for the toponym (Valea Albă is Romanian and Akdere Turkish for "The White Valley").

Stephen the Great retreated into the north-western part of Moldavia or even into the Polish Kingdom [68] and began forming another army. The Ottomans were unable to conquer any of the major Moldavian strongholds (Suceava, Neamț, Hotin) [65] and were constantly harassed by small scale Moldavians attacks. Soon they were also confronted with starvation, a situation made worse by an outbreak of the plague, and the Ottoman army returned to Ottoman lands. The threat of Stephen to Wallachia continued for decades. That very same year Stephen helped his cousin Vlad the Impaler return to the throne of Wallachia for the third and final time. Even after Vlad's untimely death several months later Stephen continued to support, with force of arms, a variety of contenders to the Wallachian throne succeeding after Mehmet's death to instate Vlad Călugărul, half brother to Vlad the Impaler, for a period of 13 years from 1482 to 1495.

Skanderbeg, a member of the Albanian nobility and a former member of the Ottoman ruling elite, led Skanderbeg's rebellion against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe. Skanderbeg, son of Gjon Kastrioti (who had joined the unsuccessful Albanian revolt of 1432–1436), united the Albanian principalities in a military and diplomatic alliance, the League of Lezhë, in 1444. Mehmed II was never successful in his efforts to subjugate Albania while Skanderbeg was alive, even though he twice (1466 and 1467) led the Ottoman armies himself against Krujë. After Skanderbeg died in 1468, the Albanians couldn't find a leader to replace him, and Mehmed II eventually conquered Krujë and Albania in 1478.

In spring 1466, Sultan Mehmed marched with a large army against Skanderbeg and the Albanians. Skanderbeg had repeatedly sought assistance from Italy, [44] and believed that the ongoing Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–1479) offered a golden opportunity to reassert Albanian independence for the Venetians, the Albanians provided a useful cover to the Venetian coastal holdings of Durrës (Italian: Durazzo) and Shkodër (Italian: Scutari). The major result of this campaign was the construction of the fortress of Elbasan, allegedly within just 25 days. This strategically sited fortress, at the lowlands near the end of the old Via Egnatia, cut Albania effectively in half, isolating Skanderbeg's base in the northern highlands from the Venetian holdings in the south. [56] However, following the Sultan's withdrawal Skanderbeg himself spent the winter in Italy, seeking aid. On his return in early 1467, his forces sallied from the highlands, defeated Ballaban Pasha, and lifted the siege of the fortress of Croia (Krujë) they also attacked Elbasan but failed to capture it. [69] [70] Mehmed II responded by marching again against Albania. He energetically pursued the attacks against the Albanian strongholds, while sending detachments to raid the Venetian possessions to keep them isolated. [69] The Ottomans failed again to take Croia, and they failed to subjugate the country. However, the winter brought an outbreak of plague, which would recur annually and sap the strength of the local resistance. [52] Skanderbeg himself died of malaria in the Venetian stronghold of Lissus (Lezhë), ending the ability of Venice to use the Albanian lords for its own advantage. [56] The Albanians were left to their own devices and were gradually subdued over the next decade.

After Skanderbeg died, Mehmed II personally led the siege of Shkodra in 1478–79, of which early Ottoman chronicler Aşıkpaşazade (1400–81) wrote, "All the conquests of Sultan Mehmed were fulfilled with the seizure of Shkodra." [71] [ better source needed ] The Venetians and Shkodrans resisted the assaults and continued to hold the fortress until Venice ceded Shkodra to the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of Constantinople as a condition of ending the war.

A number of Turkic peoples, collectively known as the Crimean Tatars, had been inhabiting the peninsula since the early Middle Ages. After the destruction of the Golden Horde by Timur earlier in the 15th century, the Crimean Tatars founded an independent Crimean Khanate under Hacı I Giray, a descendant of Genghis Khan.

The Crimean Tatars controlled the steppes that stretched from the Kuban to the Dniester River, but they were unable to take control over the commercial Genoese towns called Gazaria (Genoese colonies), which had been under Genoese control since 1357. After the conquest of Constantinople, Genoese communications were disrupted, and when the Crimean Tatars asked for help from the Ottomans, they responded with an invasion of the Genoese towns, led by Gedik Ahmed Pasha in 1475, bringing Kaffa and the other trading towns under their control. [72] After the capture of the Genoese towns, the Ottoman Sultan held Meñli I Giray captive, [73] later releasing him in return for accepting Ottoman suzerainty over the Crimean Khans and allowing them to rule as tributary princes of the Ottoman Empire. [72] However, the Crimean khans still had a large amount of autonomy from the Ottoman Empire, while the Ottomans directly controlled the southern coast.


1 See for example: Meriage 1978, pp. 421‑439 Paxton 1972 Vucinich 1982.

2 See: Karal 1982 Börekçi 2001 Aslantaş 2007.

3 The only exception to this focuses on a “Serbian” Orthodox Church which did not exist in the strict sense in Ottoman domains: Petrovich 1982.

5 BOA, HAT 181/8201, Undated: “Kederimden dünden berü cevâb yazamadım Allah’a kaldı işimiz cenâb‑ı Hakk imdâd eyleye.”

7 BOA, HAT 1130/45046A, 1 Şaban 1207 (14 March 1793): “Sırb reâyâsı zâhiren sert görünüyor ancak gâyetle devlet‑i aliyyeye itâat ve inkıyâd ile hidmet itmek üzeredirler devlet‑i aliyyenin hidmeti ile iftihâr ideyorlar lâkin ol vechile zulm ve taaddî ve tecrîme tâkatları yokdur ve tahammmül idemezler fimâba‘d dest‑i mezâlimden vakî ve himâye olunmazlar ise az zamanda firâr iderler yâhud isyân itmeleri melhuzdur.”

10 BOA, C.AS 1149/51048, Evahir Şaban 1207 (3‑13 April 1793).

21 See: Zens 2004, pp. 159‑160 Zens 2002, p. 100 Zens 2012, pp. 138‑139.

24 Šabanović 1956, p. 43: “bu nîmet‑i celîlenin teşekküri zımnında biri birimize kefîl olarak cümlemiz hidmet‑i pâdişâhide fedâ‑yı bâş u câna müteahhid olub.”

25 Šabanović 1956, p. 43: “sâkin oldığımız on iki nâhiyelerin her birinden hîn‑i hâcetde üçer yüz nefer tüfengci ihrâc itmek ve her üç yüz nefere vezîr‑i müşârun ileyh tarafından yüzer sekbân neferâtı dahi terfîk olunarak hudûd ve sinurlarımızı şerr ü fesâd‑ı ‘ussâtdan muhafaza itmek veyâhut ahar tarafa varub cenk ü harbe mübâderetimiz iktizâ ider ise kanğı canibe me’muriyyetimiz irâde buyurılur ise derhâl isbât‑ı vücud ile uğur‑ı kerâmet-mevfur‑ı pâdişâhide cânsiperâne ve sâdıkâne hidmete tecviz‑i kusur etmemek üzere mütekeffil ve müteahhid oldığımıza.”

27 BOA, HAT 180/8111 and 180/8111A. Undated.

33 For an account of the siege and participants see: Zens 2004, pp. 134‑149.

35 BOA, HAT 44/2213L, 17 Cemaziyelevvel 1216 (25 September 1801): “Kazalarda olan müsellem voyvodalarımızda iş kalmadı ve Yağodina ve Rudnik ve Çaçka kazalarına Belgrad serkerdeleri taraflarından mahiye seksan ğuruşla müsellem voyvodalar ta’yin itdirmişlerdir serdar kendülerinden nâ’ib kendülerinden müsellem voyvodalar dahi kendülerinden oldukda fukaraya cenab‑ı Hak imdad eyleye bunlar cesim kazalardır külliyetlu meblağ hasıl olur idi ancak çaresi nedir vakt‑i hal böyle iktiza eyledi ve bundan böyle sa’ir mahallerde olan voyvodalarımızı dahi kaldırmak üzereyiz hüküm ğalibindir sultanım vakt ü hale göre bizde nüfuz kalmadı heman halasımıza himmetleri niyazımdır sultanım.”

39 See: Petrovich 1982 and Nenadović 1969.

40 For example: BOA, HAT 275/16314A, Undated.

41 For example: BOA, HAT 274/16134, Undated

42 Horace Sébastiani was French ambassador in Istanbul from May 1806 to April 1808.

43 BOA, HAT 1356/54061, Undated: “Rum Patrikinin ayinlerince nush u pendi Boğdan voyvodasının nesâyihinden ziyade müsemmir ve müessir olacağına.”

44 Petrovich 1982, p. 119 Yakchitch 1917, p. 146.

45 The Ottoman document is silent on the identity of the functionary, just noting him as a priest: “The report of a priest that was previously sent to Serbia.” (Bundan akdem Sırp canibine irsal olunan bir nefer rahibin takriridir) and “The report of the priest who was sent by the Patriarch to the Serbians and has returned.” (Patrik tarafından bundan akdem Sırplu tarafına gönderilub avdet eden rahibin takriridir). BOA, HAT 134/5534A, 5 Muharrem 1222 (15 March 1807). In November 1807, the metropolitan of Vidin, Auxentios, was to negotiate with the Serbs it is not clear whether he was in Serbia in previous negotiations but in the absence of other information we can assume that the same person was involved: Petrovich 1982, p. 284.

46 The document is introduced as “rahibin takriridir” (is the report of the priest) as noted in the previous footnote, rather than as “rahibin takririnin tercemesidir” (is the translation of the report of the priest) which is the common way to introduce any translation to Ottoman language. This could mean that either the metropolitan himself prepared the document, or had a scribe who was able to produce Ottoman bureaucratic documents. BOA, HAT 134/5534A.

47 BOA, HAT 134/5534A: “Ve’l‑yevm Rusya askeri Eflak ve Boğdanı zabt idüb İpsilandi’yi memleketine voyvoda etdiler Kara Yorgi dahi milletinin serbestiyetini ister ise Fethülislam tarafına yirmi bin nefer asker ile gelse Eflak içinden bir mikdar Rusya askeri efraz ve gelub anlara ilhak olunacaktır.

49 BOA, HAT 1110/44691, 3 Şevval 1227 (10 October 1812).

50 BOA, HAT 1110/44691A, 21 Ramazan 1227 (28 September 1812).

51 Belgradi Raşid, Tarih‑i vaka‑i hayretnüma Belgrâd ve Sırbistân, (Istanbul: Tatyos Dividciyan Matbaası, 1291 [1874]), 7‑8 Aslantaş 2007, p. 154.

52 BOA, HAT 951/40859, Undated BOA, HAT 952/40870, Undated Börekçi 2001, p. 127.

54 BOA, HAT 1132/45140, 21 Cemaziyelevvel 1230 (1 May 1815) HAT 1125/44966, 29 Cemaziyelevvel 1230 (9 May 1815).

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