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Greatest Nations: Vol X—Turkey by  Charles F. Horne

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THE RECOVERY OF THE EMPIRE AND THE CAPTURE OF CONSTANTINOPLE BY MAHOMET II


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MAHOMET THE CONQUEROR AT BELGRADE.

[Authorities: As before, also Mommsen, "History of the Roman Empire"; Von Ranke, "History of Servia"; Pears, "The Fall of Constantinople"; Vambery, "The Story of Hungary"; Besant, "Constantinople and its Sieges."]

IT is curious to reflect that after the deaths of Timur and Bajazet, the empire of the victor perished, while that of the vanquished survived. This was because of the manner in which the latter power had been established, so thoroughly, so wisely, that all the tyranny and folly of Bajazet had not been able to destroy the esteem in which his family was held. Sultan-Śni and its surrounding territory, with some part even of the more recently acquired domains of Murad and Bajazet, remained faithful to the Osmanli. Yet their empire had to endure an even severer shock than that delivered by Timur. Bajazet's eldest son, Solyman, was ruling the European portion of the Sultan's domains at the time of the battle of Angora. Three younger sons escaped from that fatal field, and the four brothers plunged at once into civil war, each claiming a portion of their father's domains.

Mahomet, the youngest of the four, had inherited the high character and abilities of the earlier generations of his house; the others seemed to possess little beyond their father's savagery. Gradually Mahomet gained possession of all the Asiatic region and established himself at Brusa, the capital of the empire. He even allied himself with the Greeks against his brother; and his troops garrisoned Constantinople. Asiatic Turks fought European Turks defense of this ancient capital of Christianity.

[1752] At last the virtues of Mahomet and the vices of his brothers caused the followers of the latter to desert them even on the field of battle, and, by 1413, Mahomet had reunited under his single sceptre all that was left of the shorn and desolated empire. In Europe he then sought peace rather than reconquest. His friendly alliance with the Greek Emperor was continued, although the Greeks had regained many of their cities formerly captured by the Turks. The Sultan held at Adrianople a general conference with all the little lords who had seized a city or a province on his European borders and made themselves independent. He promised to leave them unharmed in their possessions. "Peace," he said to them, "I grant to all, peace I accept from all. May the God of peace be against the breakers of that peace."

The shrewd Sultan thus gained opportunity to devote all his attention to his Asiatic dominions, which were in even more precarious condition. The Emir of Caramania had been re-established as an independent ruler by Timur. By degrees he had regained much of the former power of his race, and burning with inextinguishable hatred, was once more ravishing the lands of the Osmanli. His forces even besieged Brusa, their capital. Mahomet hurried to its rescue, and after a long campaign was victorious over his hereditary foe. The Emir was brought before him a captive. With his usual mild policy, Mahomet only demanded an oath of submission, which the Emir gave by placing his hand within the robe upon his breast and saying, "So long as there is breath within this body, I swear never to attack or covet the possessions of the Sultan."

Even as the captive left the presence of his conqueror, he began giving orders to his captains to renew the struggle. They reminded him of his oath, but he grimly drew from the concealment of his bosom a dead bird, and told them that it was only while breath remained in that body that he had sworn to submit. So the war began again. Once more the Sultan broke the dwindling power of his foe, and once more he pardoned him.

Mahomet, in his early days of strife, had been called by his followers the "champion," because of his strength and skill with weapons; but in later years he became a builder of palaces and mosques to replace those that had been ruined in the years of anarchy; he became a lover of the arts, and his added name was Tschelebi, which means the noble-minded or the gentleman. It was Mahomet the gentleman who thus forgave his foes, yet restored his domains to peace and security. He is remembered by his countrymen as the second founder of their empire, its rescuer after the period of devastation.


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TIMUR AND BAJAZET.

It is strange that this lover of life's purer side should have been forced constantly to engage in war. The Dervishes of his own faith raised a revolt against him, the only religious strife which for centuries directed the fanaticism of the Turks against other than external foes. This was suppressed only after several bloody [1753] battles. A pretender claiming to be a son of Bajazet caused another civil war, was defeated and escaped to Constantinople, where he was imprisoned. There was a quarrel with the Venetians, and the Sultan built against them the first of those Turkish fleets which afterward became the terror of the Mediterranean. There was also fighting along the Hungarian frontier. Fortunately for the Turks, Hungary had been so crushed by the great defeat at Nicopolis that she remained quiet through all the Turkish period of weakness. But her people finding themselves unassailed, now began to recover courage and to renew the strife.

Mahomet died of apoplexy in 1421, and his death was concealed for forty days to enable his eldest son and acknowledged successor, Murad, to return to Brusa from the eastern frontier where he was learning the art of war. Murad II (1421-1451) was a youth of only eighteen when he was thus unexpectedly called to assume the difficult position and responsibilities of his father. Once again, however, the Osmanli had found a chief worthy of their fame.

The Greek Emperor, presuming on the new Sultan's youth and hoping to renew the civil wars which had proved so destructive to his dangerous neighbors, released his prisoner, the pretended son of Bajazet. The expected strife did follow, but it was soon terminated. Murad displayed a skill both in statecraft and in battle which completely overmatched his opponent, who was defeated and slain.

The youthful Sultan vowed to end forever the perfidy of the Greeks by capturing Constantinople. In 1422, he besieged the massive walls of the metropolis, advancing against them with good generalship and reaching the point where a preliminary assault was begun. Both Greek and Turkish accounts tell us that this was repelled by the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary at the most threatened spot. The assault certainly failed, and Murad was soon compelled to withdraw his forces to meet another danger.

This was an Asiatic rebellion headed by his younger brother and supported by all the power of the Emir of Caramania. It was suppressed and its leader slain. Murad himself remained for a long time in personal government over the people of Caramania; and from that time onward they became the devoted followers of his house. We hear no more of their persistent and formidable revolts.

Along the Hungarian border the Turkish troops were engaged in an endless though not serious warfare, and after many years of patience had fully established Murad's power in Asia, he resolved to crush forever this petty contest in Europe. He was destined, however, in the new strife to meet at last his equals if not his superiors in the art of war, the two ablest champions brought by the West against the East;—Hunyadi, the hero of Hungary, and Scanderbeg, the hero of Albania.

The decisive war began in 1442 when the forces of Murad were repulsed from Belgrade, the chief fortress on the Hungarian border. At the same time, Hunyadi leaped into fame by defeating with great slaughter a Turkish army which had [1754] invested the town of Hermanstadt in Transylvania. We have spoken of the savagery of Bajazet, who slew his Christian prisoners after Nicopolis; but there is certainly little to choose between the methods of either side. After the battle of Hermanstadt, Hunyadi caused the Turkish general and his son to be chopped into little pieces; then, at a banquet of victory, he entertained his guests by having Turkish captives led in one by one and slaughtered in various interesting ways.

Hunyadi followed his success by an even greater victory at Vasag. Encouraged by this turning of the tide, the Roman Pope preached another crusade, and volunteers from all Europe joined Hunyadi's force. The next year, 1443, he led a strong army into Turkish territory. He won the battle of Nissa, drove the Turks out of Bulgaria, and fought his way across the Balkan Mountains in most remarkable manner, opening to the ravages of his army the thoroughly Turkish district around Adrianople. That year, however, he advanced no farther; his great force broke up, and its members scattered to their homes.

Murad had not personally encountered this terrible foe; but having found his ablest generals defeated, he had no wish to put his life, and throne on the hazard of so desperate a contest. He proposed a peace with the King of Hungary, yielding the latter large advantages and surrendering all his claims to suzerainty over Servia and Wallachia. These liberal terms were accepted and a truce was made which both parties swore should not be broken for at least ten years (1444).


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SCANDERBEG DEMANDS THE SURRENDER OF THE TURKS.

Having thus after many trials established peace through all his domains, Sultan Murad performed an act rare in the annals of any land, rarest in the East. He resigned his throne. His eldest and best-loved son having just died, the second, Mahomet, a boy of fourteen, was declared Sultan and girded with the sacred sword of Osman. Murad retired, not to a monastery of austerity like his later and more celebrated imitator, the German Emperor Charles V, but to a retreat made attractive by every pleasure that could appeal to the cultured intellect.

He was not, however, allowed to remain in his seclusion. The truce with Hunyadi had roused vigorous protest from the Roman Catholic Church. A crusade had been preached, it had achieved splendid victories, yet its object was not accomplished. The Turks must be driven wholly out of Europe. Their appeal for peace proved their weakness; the successes of Hunyadi attested the irresistible might of the Christian arms. No faith was to be kept with infidels; despite the oaths of ten years' peace, the war must be renewed at once. Hunyadi opposed this. Having freed his own land and those nearest it, he had no desire for further war; but he was overborne. Without warning, waiting only till the promised fortresses of Servia and Wallachia had been handed over to them, the Christians invaded the Turkish lands.

Their advance was as successful as it was unexpected. All down the Danube Hunyadi marched his forces, seizing the fortresses and cities by the way. He then [1755] moved southward along the Black Sea, penetrating as far as the important port of Varna, which he captured.

The storm which Sultan Murad had thus far avoided, he could not leave to burst upon his son. Instantly upon news of Hunyadi's advance, his resolution was taken. Leaving his retirement, he hastily gathered his best troops and hurried to repel the invader. Crossing the Balkan Mountains in unexpected fashion, he advanced against Hunyadi from the rear, and for the first time these two able generals met at Varna. The encounter that followed is known to the Turks as the Battle of the Violated Treaty, for the Sultan, hoisting a copy of that document upon a lance, bade his soldiers follow it as a standard. Hunyadi on his side, having grown confident through success, drew up his forces on the plain outside the city and charged without waiting for the attack of the foe. Both wings of the Turkish army were driven back, and we are told that for a moment Murad contemplated flight. But in the centre, the Janizaries held firm. The Hungarian king who attacked them was slain and his head raised upon a lance, as fitting companion to the treaty to which he had sworn. Bearing these two grim standards the Janizaries advanced, and the Christians fled before them. Even Hunyadi, though he performed prodigies of valor, could not stay the tide. He himself escaped, but his army was annihilated (1444).

The battle of Varna broke forever the power of the Balkan States which had joined Hunyadi. Not only Servia and Wallachia but Bosnia also became tributary Turkish states. Having established garrisons there as a bulwark against Western Europe, Murad for the second time abdicated in favor of his son and withdrew to his philosophical retreat. He is the only sovereign in history who has ever twice resigned his power.

The peace and pleasure for which he longed were still denied him. The boy Mahomet was not yet strong enough to control the wild Turkish warriors. The fierce Janizaries in particular were little likely to obey a child. They engaged in open plunder and murder and laughed at all efforts to restrain them. The councillors whom Murad had left around his son, hurried to their former master and besought him to return again from his seclusion, for only he could prevent the establishment of a military tyranny, a despotism subject to these "new troops" once slaves of the empire.

Then Murad, feeling that he was indeed the servant of his subjects, abandoned his dream of rest. He came forth from his beloved retreat and dispatched young Mahomet thither to study and obey, until he should be capable of leading and commanding. The turbulent troops welcomed with delight the return of their trusted master. The ringleaders of sedition were executed, the remainder pardoned, and Murad began again the task of keeping order both at home and on his frontiers.

[1756] The chief enemy of his remaining years was the Albanian hero, Kara George, or Black George, frequently spoken of as Scanderbeg, a corrupted form of "Lord Alexander," a name given him in youth by Murad himself in admiration of the lad's fiery valor, which the Sultan said was like that of the great conqueror, Alexander. George was the son of an Albanian chieftain and was sent to Murad's court as hostage for his father. He was brought up a Mahometan and became a chief favorite of the Sultan, then one of his most valued and trusted lieutenants, commanding in several Asiatic campaigns.

In secret, however, the courted and admired "Kara George" had never forgotten the home of his childhood. On his father's death he hoped to be established in the family lordship, and as the Sultan failed to send him home he planned a bold revolt. Seizing for its execution the moment of Hunyadi's great victories of 1443, he went to the chief secretary of the empire and forced him with a dagger at his throat to write out an order to the governor in Albania, directing that all the fortresses should be placed in the hands of the bearer. Then, slaying the unhappy secretary lest the secret be betrayed, George hurried to Albania and without difficulty secured command of almost the entire region. He threw off the pretence of having come in the Sultan's name, and declared the land independent and its ancient religion re-established. The wild Albanian mountaineers eagerly joined this son of their former leader. The peaceful Turkish inhabitants of the land were massacred; their remaining armies were defeated and put to flight.

Murad by abdicating had thought to leave to his son rather than himself the struggle against his well-beloved page and favorite, Scanderbeg. But even on his second return to his throne, he found the task still unbegun. So taking this trial also upon himself, he invaded Albania with a mighty army. One fortress after another was recaptured. The Sultan, however, found his progress so slow and so costly in the lives of his followers, that he resorted to his old tactics and sought peace, offering to make Scanderbeg his viceroy over Albania. The Albanians steadily refused all terms of accommodation, and the Turks were finally compelled to fight their way out of the land through the mountain passes, even as they had forced a passage in.


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CONSTANTINE ENCOURAGING HIS TROOPS.

This was in 1448, and the Sultan's departure was made necessary by the return of his other foe, Hunyadi, who had recovered from the defeat of Varna and was again leading an army out of Hungary, attacking the Turks in Servia, their border dependency. A second time did Murad defeat his greatest enemy, this time in the terrific three-day battle of Kossova. It was his final triumph; he died in 1451, and was by his own command buried, not in a grand mausoleum, but in a simple, open grave, "nothing differing," says Knowles, the picturesque English historian of the time, "from that of the common Turks,—that the mercy and blessing [1757] of God might come unto him by the shining of the sun and moon and the falling of the rain and dew of Heaven upon his grave."

Mahomet II (1451-1481), called the Conqueror, was that son of Murad who had been twice removed by his father from the throne because of his inability to control the empire. By 1451, however, the young man had learned at least the blacker part of his hard lesson. On receiving the news of his father's death, he cried out, "Who loves me, follows me," and leaping on a horse rode without pause until he reached the capital. There he was immediately proclaimed Sultan; and his first act was to order the death of his infant brother, justifying the crime by the example of Bajazet, and by pointing to all the civil wars which had been caused by the weakness of his own father and grandfather in not following this firm course. In the latter part of his reign, Mahomet actually proclaimed this slaughter of all the brothers of a new sovereign as the law of the Empire. It became the established policy of his successors.

The first warlike movement of Mahomet's reign was against Constantinople. Its last Emperor, Constantine, judging the man by the incapacity of the boy seven years before, sent a demand for an increase in an annual sum paid him for keeping in confinement a claimant to the Turkish throne. Mahomet responded encouragingly until he had taken full possession of his inheritance and felt secure of his subjects' allegiance. Then he began building a huge fortress which still towers above the shores of the Bosphorus, close to Constantinople. The Emperor Constantine, himself a youth but little older than Mahomet, remonstrated against this threatening demonstration, whereupon the Sultan, with fury suddenly released, answered that the Osmanli had borne too long the insolence of a dependent, and that he meant now to chastise Constantinople once for all and to take rightful possession of this arrogant metropolis which obtruded itself like a foreign island in the midst of his domains.


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MAHOMET II URGING ON HIS SAILORS.

Early in 1453, the Moslems gathered round the doomed city, the capital of a thousand years, whose mighty walls had resisted the siege of so many armies of Asiatic invaders. Constantine sought help from Western Europe, but secured only a few hundred troops, while the effort cost him the allegiance of the mass of his own people, who declared him a heretic. Some of them vowed they would sooner see the Mussulmans in possession of their homes than open them to the hated Roman Christians. Thus it was upon a city hopelessly divided against itself that Mahomet made his attack. He conducted it with great skill, casting enormous cannon with which to batter down the walls, sapping the defenses with mines, and creating a fleet to prevent the provisioning of the besieged by sea. His people were as yet untrained in naval warfare, and once a relieving fleet fought its way past his vessels, though Mahomet in fury forced his horse into the very waves and passionately urged on his defeated sailors. At length, however, the blockade [1758] was complete, and the defenses were so battered, the loyal defenders so decimated and exhausted, that a general assault was made.

Constantine and his troop resisted this heroically but without avail, and the last of the Caesars perished with the downfall of his empire. The city was sacked.. For a time the Moslems slew all they met, then they began seizing as slaves all the fairer women and stronger men. Thousands of the fanatical Greek Christians, gathered in the great church of St. Sophia, believing that a miracle would save them from the foe. None occurred, and most of the foolish and factious inhabitants who had refused to join in the defense of their city, thus met the fate they had invited, almost deserved.

Finally Mahomet checked the slaughter. This grandest metropolis of the world was henceforth to be his capital; he did not want it wholly without people. The remnant of the miserable Greeks were therefore promised mercy. They were even permitted to continue their religion, and Mahomet conferred office on a new Patriarch or head of the Greek Christian Church, assuring him that he should be unhampered in his religious authority. But the splendid palaces, the gorgeous churches, were all taken possession of by the Mahometans. The Osmanli might at last feel themselves fittingly housed in a capital worthy of their fame. They were masters of a broad and undisputed empire, united around its natural centre, the ancient city most celebrated in all the world for culture and magnificence.


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JANIZARIES SEIZING CHRISTIAN CHILDREN.


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