When Bayezid I s empire collapsed, Timur recognized those territories that belonged to the House of Osman on the day of Murad I’s death as being legitimately Ottoman. This ruling returned some Anatolian provinces to their former masters, something Timur was able to enforce. In theory it also stripped the Ottomans of all their gains in Europe as well as the changes introduced there under Bayezid. In Europe, however, Timur was unable to enforce his rulings, and the decision was left in the hands of those, including the Christian princes, who were in a position to take advantage of the new situation. The behavior of these people during the Ottoman interregnum from 1402 to 1413 is of great interest.

Bayezid was very unpopular among several elements of Turkish society, and it is well known that he lost the Battle of Ankara because only his Christian forces remained loyal while numerous Muslim units deserted during the fight. The gazis resented his highhanded illegal” treatment of fellow Muslim princes. The leading Turkish families, descendants of the first successful gazi leaders and of those who allied themselves with the Ottomans early and had achieved wealth and leading positions, resented the sultan’s increasingly “Byzantine” tendencies. the growing centralization of power, a court that was more and more “imperial,” and several new influences including slaves in the ruling and decision-making process, all of which diminished their position. Both of these groups accused Bayezid not only of abandoning the gazi tradition, but even of being a bad Muslim because he was too strongly under the Christian influence of his mother, wife, and European friends. Bayezid was certainly not interested in changing his faith, but his desire to become a universal ruler and his interest in the eclectic religious tendencies then fashionable made him somewhat more tolerant of other religions than was permissible under the regulations of strict High Islam. At the same time he was eager to diminish religious antagonisms. Thus, there were certain facets of his behavior that were justifiably objectionable to the gazi, the Turkish aristocracy, and the learned men, the major Turkish-Muslim supporters of his state.

Although two of these dissatisfied Turkish factions agreed on the need to reverse Bayezid’s policies, they did not agree on what had to be restored. The gazi faction would have preferred a return to the days of Osman and Orhan, to continued expansion, to the great influence of the brotherhoods and folk-religion, and to the almost tribal chief role the early sultans had played. Although the leading families certainly did not object to the continuation of gazi wars, they wanted a polity modeled on the most glorious days of the Seljuq state when not Folk but High Islam dominated and where old Turkic traditions assured the supremacy of their class.

To these two groups must be added a third, which cannot be called Christian, but can be called European, although it had some partisans in Anatolia too. For simplicity’s sake only two major elements that made up this faction will be mentioned. On the higher social level there were the important commercial interests. These persons were eager to re-establish “normal” conditions. They were not hostile to those”Byzantine” features that not only favored production and trade, but also made foreign business connections possible. For them the reunification of western Anatolia, through which numerous important trade routes led, was of prime importance, even if it involved the reabsorption of their own lands and the Turkish principalities into the Ottoman state. Small in number and without a firm religious commitment, this element needed mass support. It found such support mainly in Europe among those who were dissatisfied with centuries of religious strife and persecution and who, although they found Ottoman practices preferable to what had preceded, wanted to go further, to an elementary proto-democracy that included religious equality and freedom. This element played an important role in the civil war that restored the Ottoman Empire. The significance of this fact is enormous. The extremely elitist and hierarchial Ottoman State owed its rebirth to grass-root support. Although led by Muslim families often of European, mainly Greek, origin, this faction did not attempt to strengthen Byzantium or recreate the various Balkan states. Rather it tried to rebuild the traditional Ottoman domain.

The religious eclecticism of Bayezid I can be clearly seen in the names of his four sons who were involved in the civil war. The oldest, Suleyman, had an Old Testament name (Solomon) as had one of his brothers Musa (Moses). Isa’s name is the Turkish equivalent of Jesus, while Mehmed’s is the turkified form of the most favored Muslim name Muhammad.

The civil war was made possible by several circumstances. When Timur, playing the role of a Muslim legitimist, left the Ottomans some of their possessions, he appointed Isa emir of Bursa, and Mehmed governor of Manisa (Magnesia ad Maenderum), a position he held under his father. In this manner Timur created two strong Ottoman Anatolian bases in ter- ritories that were firm in their loyalty to the Osmanli family. Furthermore, he never came to western Anatolia himself, nor did he send his representatives to enforce his rulings. On his death in 1405 the local princes were left to settle the future political development of Asia Minor. Finally, the above-mentioned factionalism made it possible for the princes to seek followers among various groups of the population, all of whom were looking for a sultan who would represent their interests.

Suleyman, who had managed to escape from Ankara, made his way to Edirne where, with the help of the grand vezir, Ali Cenderli, he proclaimed himself sultan. He was not, however, able to force his two brothers to recognize him. When Bayezid I died in captivity, in 1403, Musa was allowed to take his father’s body home to Bursa. Having accomplished this task, he left the city and joined Mehmed.

By this time the Cenderli family had important commercial interests and was allied with several other families who belonged either to the highest bureaucratic circles, to the trading community, or, like the Evrenos family of Greek origin and the Cenderlis themselves, to both. The leader of the janissary corps created by Murad I also made his way to Edirne. Consequently, Suleyman’s position was very strong; the military leaders, the leading functionaries, were in his camp, and he was in the economically richest regions of the state. Mehmed, ably advised by his former tutor and competent general, Bayezid, relied mainly on the gazis for support, while Isa, having no clear faction to back him, was in the weakest position.

Suleyman, in accordance with the interests he represented, concluded alliances with the Byzantine emperor, Manuel II, and with Michael Steno, the doge of Venice. To cement his major alliance Suleyman married Manuel’s daughter in 1403 and returned Salonika to his father-in-law. The latter move was not well received by the gazis who were numerous in eastern Thrace. His relations with Serbia, Wallachia, and Albania — three states that had taken advantage of the Ottoman troubles and had regained their independence — were not satisfactory either.

Suleyman was very intelligent and well educated, according to the information that has survived, but he was also very ambitious and extremely arrogant and overbearing. He needed the support of his father’s ex-vassals to force his brothers to acknowledge him as sultan, but his behavior turned them against him. Later even his close collaborators tired of him, and his disregard of the strong popular movement in his lands alienated both the Muslim and Christian lower classes.

The struggle began when Musa, now in the service of his brother Mehmed, attacked Isa in Bursa. Musa was victorious, and Isa took refuge with Suleyman. The latter now used him, just as Mehmed had used Musa, and sent him back to Anatolia to recapture Bursa. Isa failed and lost his life. In 1404 Suleyman himself crossed into Anatolia, forced Musa to flee to Constantinople and then to Wallachia, and advanced as far as Ankara by 1405. At this moment, when he had Mehmed in a precarious situation, he had to return rapidly to Europe because Musa, taking advantage of Suleyman’s lack of popularity with the Balkan princes and the Byzantine habit of backing the weakest against the strongest, attacked his European possessions with the help of Mircea of Wallachia, Stefan Lazarevic of Serbia, and the sons of the last two Bulgarian rulers. After suffering an initial defeat Musa regained the initiative in 1410 and defeated Suleyman whose bad habits had left him without any real supporters. As Suleyman was fleeing toward Constantinople he was killed by the discontented peasantry. Musa was now master of Europe and refused to recognize the overlordship of Mehmed any longer. Thus, the European and Asian halves of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire faced each other in preparation for a final show down.

From the point of view of the European princes, Musa is certainly the most interesting personality of the civil war. He gained his mastery of the European half of the empire with their help, yet he began his rule by moving against them. First, he attacked the Serbs whose “treachery” he blamed for his first defeat by Suleyman, resumed the siege of Constantinople, and sent raiding parties down the length of the Greek peninsula and even westward as far as Austria. He appears to have paid little attention to Mehmed and the gazi and to the increasingly strong bureaucratic support his brother enjoyed, and seems to have attempted to build up a new state structure on a wide popular basis. His military campaigns appear to have been directed against the leaders of the Balkan states, and he alienated the higher Turkish circles with their bureaucratic and commercial interests by constantly favoring the lower classes. Naturally, Mehmed made valiant efforts to gain the allegiance of the dissatisfied merchants, nobility, and learned men, adding their support to that of the gazi. Once besieged by Musa, Manuel II also shifted to an alliance with Mehmed and so did the European princes.

The best indication of Musa’s revolutionary approach to what he considered to be the proper state structure was his appointment of Seyh Bedreddin to the highest legal position in the realm. A famous alim and scholar-turned-mystic, this man, who in 1416 was to lead a dangerous popular revolt against Mehmed I, was not only one of the leading spokesmen for religious peace and the union of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into one creed, but also something of an early socialist. He was very popular among the peasant masses, and his close relationship with Musa brought this prince mass support. By about 1410 or 1411 Mehmed had become the leader of the Turkish factions including those, together with their Christian and Jewish allies, who favored commercial interests and enjoyed the backing of the various rulers in Europe. Musa had become the leader of the “populist party,” whose aim was to establish a state based on social and religious egalitarianism. So far as the inhabitants of the Balkans were concerned, this division meant that the aristocratic and commercial leadership backed Mehmed, while the masses followed Musa.

Mehmed’s first attempt to defeat Musa, in 1410, was a failure. For the next two years the brothers left each other alone. While Musa was feuding with the Byzantine emperor and experimenting with his new approach to government, Mehmed was occupied in Asia Minor where the emirs of Izmir (Smyrna) and Ankara (Angora) were contesting his rule. Only after he had defeated these dignitaries could Mehmed turn westward again, and in 1412 the final battles began. During Musa’s siege of Constantinople Mehmed moved his troops south of his brother’s position, entered Sofia, and pushed on to Nis where he was joined by the Serbs. He then turned around and in 1413 met Musa’s forces near Sofia. Mehmed won the battle; Musa lost his life. The Ottoman Empire was finally reunited under Sultan Mehmed I (1413-21), and the reorganization of the state could begin. Thus, the first step towards the final consolidation of Ottoman rule in the Balkans had taken place.

Consolidation was difficult. Mehmed still faced challenges not only from Turkish princes in Anatolia, from Balkan rulers, and from the powerful Hungarian state, but also from a discontented population that gladly followed Seyh Bedreddin’s call to revolt. Furthermore, he had to unite the various factions under his own leadership. This Mehmed I and his successor, Murad II (1421-44), were able to accomplish. They based the new system on the state structure that Murad I had begun to develop, and while it did not reach its final form until the days of Mehmed II (1444-46; 1451-81), these two sultans virtually established what became the Ottoman social and state system for the remaining centuries of the empire’s existence. For this reason the rest of this section will be devoted to a short discussion of the various, mainly military, moves of Mehmed I and Murad II in Europe, and the next chapter will deal with the “Ottoman system,” stressing those aspects that became crucial for our area.

When Mehmed I became the uncontested sultan of the Ottoman state in 1413, Manuel II was still ruling in Constantinople, the capable Mircea cel Batrin was still Prince of Wallachia, and Stefan Lazarevic ruled Serbia. Bosnia was still independent, and Albania was in the process of be- coming a unified state. Hungary, with which the Ottomans still had no common border, was a strong state ruled by Sigismund of Luxemburg and had Balkan ambitions of her own, while Venice held territories all around the shores of the Balkan Peninsula. Thus, the final outcome of the question of who would become the master of the Balkans was by no means a foregone conclusion.

Numerous possibilities of combinations and alliances existed. Mehmed realized how precarious the balance of power in Europe was and how unsettled the situation in his own lands was, and he knew that the descendants of Timur could still challenge him at any moment in Anatolia. He therefore became a man of peace after 1413, concentrating on his domestic problems. The only military campaigns he engaged in were forced on him. He had to face the Byzantine-supported challenge by his brother Mustafa who reappeared, probably from the east, after the civil war had been decided. In this war Venice destroyed his fleet near Gallipoli in 1416, but he defeated Mustafa, who sought refuge in Byzantium. In the peace that ensued the sultan promised not to attack Byzantine territory in exchange for Manuel’s agreement to hold Mustafa prisoner.

Mehmed also faced the revolt of Seyh Bedreddin, centered mainly in the Dobrudja and supported by Mircea who occupied these rich lands when the revolt was defeated. Mehmed attacked in 1419, and the only European territorial acquisition during his reign, Giurgiu (Yergogu), was the result of this war. Thus, the political situation in the Balkans was much the same when Mehmed I died, in 1421, as it had been when he reunited the empire.

The first years of Murad II’s reign were difficult. The Byzantines released his uncle Mustafa who attacked him; numerous Anatolian princes moved against the sultan and backed his brother, whose name was also Mustafa. By 1423, however, the young ruler had re-established order and reigned over all the lands that were Ottoman at his father’s death. While he was occupied with revolts, the Hungarians were extending their sway into the Balkans, and the Venetians, as allies of Byzantium, were gaining a strong foothold in the Morea and had received the city of Salonika from the emperor. Byzantium was really not a serious enemy, but the war with Venice continued until 1430 when the Ottomans finally reconquered Salonika.

The major menace to Murad proved to be Hungary. During the Venetian war the Hungarians and Ottomans had agreed, in 1428, to set up a buffer state and jointly recognize Djordje (George) Brankovic as a legitimate and independent ruler of Serbia. Obviously, this was a temporary measure. When the Venetian war ended, Murad returned to the policy of Murad I and Bayezid 1, that of including all lands south of the Danube-Sava line into his state. Hungarian influence in Bosnia, Serbia, and Wallachia had to be eliminated; if this was not-possible, at least the land already in Ottoman hands had to be fully secured. Therefore, Venice had to be pushed out of its remaining Balkan strongholds. Murad constantly tried to expand his rule by raids into the Balkan states and did gain some permanent acquisitions in Greece proper, the Morea, and southern Albania. The various princelings turned to Hungary for protection. After 1432 Murad concentrated his energies on Hungary, conducting raids into Transylvania in that year and continuing to harass that country and its allies whenever he could. He intensified his efforts when Sigismund died in 1437 and attacked Transylvania again. In 1439 he occupied Serbia and made it an Ottoman province. The next year he attacked Belgrade (Beograd, Nandorfehervar), Hungary’s main border fortress at the time, but was not successful.

After the attack on Belgrade Murad was forced to return to Asia Minor to deal with an attack by the Karaman principality. The Hungarians, led by their most famous general Janos (John) Hunyadi, took advantage of the situation and attacked the Ottoman forces remaining in Europe. In 1441 and 1442 they penetrated deep into the Balkans, forcing Murad to come to an agreement. The Treaty of Edirne, in 1444, which was extended by the Treaty of Szeged during the same year, re-established Serbia as a buffer state. The Hungarians agreed to leave Bulgarian lands unmolested and not to cross the Danube. Having made peace with the Karamanids during the same year, Murad abdicated, believing that his realm was secure.

Murad’s twelve-year-old son, Mehmed II, ascended to the throne, and a power struggle ensued between the grand vezir, Halil Cenederli, the tutor of the new ruler, Zaganos, and the beylerbeyi of the European provinces, ihabeddln. Taking advantage of this situation, a Hungarian-Wallachian army encouraged by the Pope and the Byzantines, and supported by various Balkan princes, of whom the Albanian Scanderbeg (George Kastriote) was the most remarkable, crossed the Danube and marched through Bulgaria toward Edirne. At the critical moment this city was destroyed by a great fire. The Venetian fleet joined the new crusade and closed the Dardanelles, making it impossible to transfer Ottoman troops from Asia Minor to Europe. Murad II came out of retirement to take command of the Ottoman armies and won a great victory at Varna on November 10, 1444. Varna sealed the fate of the Balkans and Constantinople. At this juncture the squabble of the three dignataries began to center around the question of how to handle the imperial city. The grand vezir was opposed to attacking it, the other two argued in favor of this move. In 1446 the grand vezir, backed by the janissaries, staged a coup d’etat and forced Murad to reascend the throne and rule for another five years. The old sultan resumed his former policies and extended Ottoman realm in the Morea, campaigned against Scanderbeg in Albania, and reasserted his rule in Serbia. The success of his policies was assured when he defeated Hunyadi in the second battle at Kosovo in 1448.

Murad’s rule represents a watershed in the history of the Ottoman Empire. Brockelmann states that “in many respects Murad’s reign meant the end of the ancient culture of the Osmanlis.” Inalcik points out that while Murad had intended to fallow his father’s policies when he came to the throne, he soon realized that changes were needed, and cites the introduction of new armaments as an example of the reforms introduced by this ruler. Both assertions are correct and indicate the reorganization, finished only during the second reign of Mehmed II and of equal importance to every inhabitant of the empire, was well advanced when Murad died in 1451.

(to be continued)

Peter Sugar,

from “The Early History and the Establishment of the Ottomans in Europe”

from his Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354-1804. U of Washington Press 1977;

About sooteris kyritsis

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