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since 1453


Eugene N . Anderson
M odern E urope in W orld Perspective:
19J4 to the Present
Eugene N . A nderson
E uropean Issues in the T w entieth Century
Richard M . Brace
The M aking of the M odern W orld:
From the Renaissance to the Present
Wallace E. Caldwell
T he A ncient W orld
Stewart C. Easton
T he H eritage of the Past:
F rom the E arliest Tim es to 1500
Stewart C. Easton
T he H eritage of the Past:
F rom the E arliest Tim es to 1715
L oren C. M acK inney
T he M edieval W orld
L . S. Stavrianos
T he Balkans since 1453

since 1453
L. S. Stavrianos
P rofessor of H istory, N orthw estern University


Rinehart & Company, Inc.

Copyright 1958 by L. S. Stavrianos

A ll Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States o f A m erica
l ibrary o f Congress Catalog Card N um ber: 58-7242


e r h a p s t h i s b o o k should be preceded by an apology

rath er than a preface an apology for presum ption in undertaking singlehanded a history of the B alkan Peninsula. This task, under ideal circum
stances, should be assum ed by an international team of scholars. A nd even
such a team could n o t hope to produce anything approaching a definitive w ork
w ithout a good m any years of cooperative research and deliberation on the
num erous basic problem s in B alkan history th at still rem ain unresolved.
I began this study alm ost a decade ago with the hope th at the inevi
table shortcom ings of the final p ro d u ct m ight be balanced by certain positive
features. M ore specifically, two objectives have been kept in m ind through
o u t the preparation of this volume. O ne was to synthesize and to m ake m ore
generally available the great am ount of m onographic and periodical literature
th at has appeared since the period following W orld W ar I, w hen the currently
available general B alkan histories w ere w ritten. T he nature and extent of this
literature is indicated in the bibliography, w here an attem pt also has been
m ade to point out the m ost pressing needs and the m ost prom ising research
areas in contem porary B alkan historiography.
T he other objective has been to m ake m anifest the broader signifi
cance of B alkan history by em phasizing the interrelationship of B alkan, gen
eral E uropean, and w orld history. D uring the p ast century, particularly, Bal
k an developm ents are explainable to a significant degree in term s of the
im pact of the dynam ic, industrial W estern society upon the static, agrarian
B alkan society. T he instability and turbulence of B alkan politics in the m od
ern period becom e m eaningful w hen interpreted as a local m anifestation of the
world-wide problem of the adjustm ent of backw ard areas to the W estern in
dustrial civilization th a t has enveloped the globe.
E arly in the p rep aratio n of this study certain basic questions of defi
nition and delim itation h ad to be decided. O ne concerned geography how
far north do the B alkans extend? T he decision here arbitrary of necessity
was to exclude H ungary and include R um ania. A nother question was w hether
the approach to B alkan history during the O ttom an period should be prim a
rily local or imperial. T h e latter had certain im portant advantages, particularly




pedagogically. T he O ttom an period of B alkan history has been viewed trad i

tionally from C onstantinople, and this treatm ent undoubtedly is m ore adapt
able to the fam iliar patterns of general E uropean history. O n the other hand,
a B alkan approach to the O ttom an period is desirable precisely because it has
been hitherto neglected. B ut this in turn im m ediately raises the problem of
current B alkan historiography for the O ttom an period. Yugoslav historians,
who have devoted far m ore attention to the prenational era than any of their
B alkan colleagues, are still debating elem entary questions of interpretation
and even of fact.
A t the risk of falling betw een two stools, an attem pt has been m ade to
com bine the im perial and local approaches. O ttom an im perial history is sur
veyed in P arts II and III, though the analysis is deliberately slanted tow ard
the Balkans. F o r exam ple, the conquests of Selim I in Syria and E gypt are of
basic significance for the general history of the O ttom an E m pire; yet they are
only briefly sum m arized here because they did not directly affect the Balkans.
F o r the sam e reason m uch m ore em phasis is placed on Suleim ans cam paigns
in C entral E urope, where B alkan frontiers were involved, than on his equally
im portant expeditions into Persia and the western M editerranean. A t the same
tim e, P arts II and III include chapters devoted to Balkan institutions and
trends during the O ttom an period, and also the national chapters in P art IV
include background surveys of pre-nineteenth century developm ents and
T he nineteenth century also posed a problem of delim itation. Should
this study concern itself with the various crises and wars arising from the in
trusion of the great pow ers into the vacuum created by O ttom an decline? F o r
exam ple, both the N ear E astern crises of the 1830s and the C rim ean W ar did
not originate in the Balkans and the m ilitary operations were not waged in that
area. This would appear sufficient reason for concluding th at these episodes
have no place in a B alkan history. Y et the events of 1875 -1 8 7 8 obviously
m ust be considered, and if they are to be considered m eaningfully it is clearly
necessary to trace the diplom atic threads back to the earlier crises. T hus the
decision again was in favor of broad er coverage, so that the so-called E astern
Q uestion is here exam ined com prehensively to the L ausanne T reaty of 1923.
In fact, the Q uestion is traced through to the post-W orld W ar II period, for
the m aneuverings, declarations, and doctrines of C hurchill and Stalin and
R oosevelt and T ru m an are but the contem porary m anifestation of the age-old
Q uestion that in the past involved G reeks, Persians, R om ans, Slavs, and
It gives me pleasure to take this opportunity to acknow ledge the
friendly and unstinted help o f the follow ing scholars who read and criticized
portions o f the manuscript: Professor Sinasi A ltundag o f the U niversity of
Ankara, Professor G eorge A rnakis o f the U niversity o f T exas, Professor . E.
Black o f Princeton U niversity, Professor M ichael B. Petrovich of the U niver
sity o f W isconsin, Professor Carl Roebuck o f Northwestern University, Pro
lessor Jo/, Tom asevich ol Sim Francisco State C ollege, and Dr. Peter T o p



ping, D irector of the G ennadius L ibrary of the A m erican School of Classical

Studies in A thens. O ther scholars, including Professor Sydney N. Fisher of
The Ohio State University, Professor C harles Jelavich of the U niversity of
California at Berkeley, Professor W illiam L. L anger of H arvard University,
D r. Philip E. Mosely of the Council on Foreign R elations, Professor H enry L.
R oberts of C olum bia University, and Professor W ayne S. V ucinich of Stan
ford University, responded generously to the innum erable questions that arose
in the course of preparing the m anuscript. I am indebted also to the following
authors who kindly allowed me to read their w orks while still in m anuscript
form : D r. Jo h n C. C am pbell of the Council on F oreign R elations ( French In
fluence and the R ise of Roumanian N ationalism ) , Dr. G eorge Coutsoum aris
( Possibilities of Econom ic D evelopm ent in G reek A griculture), Professor
Roderic Davison of T he G eorge W ashington U niversity ( Reform in the O tto
man Empire 1 8 5 6 - 1 8 7 6 ) , Professor A dam antios Pepellasis of the University
of California at Davis ( Socio-Cultural Barriers to the Econom ic D evelopm ent
of G reece), Professor H ow ard A. Reed of W allingford, Pennsylvania ( The
Destruction of the Janissaries by M ahm ud II in June, 1 8 2 6 ), D r. E rnest E.
R am saur, Jr. (T h e Young Turk Revolution, A n Inquiry into the Origins of
the Turkish Revolution of 1908, published iri 1957 by the Princeton U niver
sity Press as The Young Turks: Prelude to the R evolution of 1 9 0 8 ), Professor
H enry L. R oberts of C olum bia U niversity ( Rum ania: Political Problem s of
an Agrarian State, published in 1951 by the Y ale U niversity P re ss), Professor
T raian Stoianovich of R utgers U niversity ( L conom ie balkanique aux X V IIe
et X V IIIe sicles), Professor Lewis V. T hom as of P rinceton U niversity ( O tto
man Awareness of Europe, 1650 to 1 8 0 0 ), and Professor Jozo Tom asevich
( Peasants, Politics and Econom ic Change in Yugoslavia, published in 1955
by the Stanford U niversity P ress). W hile this w ork was in the press, D r.
George C. Soulis, L ib rarian of D um b arto n O aks and m em ber of the Faculty
of A rts and Sciences, H arv ard U niversity, kindly inform ed me of a num ber of
studies that had escaped m y attention. T hese have been added to the bibliog
raphy section, with the notation in each case th at they have not been consulted
in the p reparation of the m anuscript. M r. Justin K estenbaum , form erly H earst
Fellow in A m erican H istory at N orthw estern U niversity and presently a m em
ber of the history departm ent at W right Ju n io r College, photographed the
illustrative m aterials with expertness and care.
T he directors and staff m em bers of the libraries in which I have
w orked have been m ost helpful and courteous. I am grateful to them all, and
particularly to those of the N ational L ibrary of G reece, the G ennadius L i
brary in A thens, the L ibrary of Congress, the N ew Y ork Public Library, and
the libraries of H arv ard University, Princeton U niversity, Colum bia U niver
sity, Stanford U niversity, the U niversity of C alifornia at Berkeley, and the
University of Chicago. T he staff of D eering L ib rary at N orthw estern U niver
sity responded unfailingly to repeated requests throughout the preparation of
the m anuscript.
I should also like to extend my thanks to the John Simon G uggen



heim M em orial F ound atio n for a fellowship that enabled me to devote w ithout
interruption the year 1 9 5 1 -1 9 5 2 to this study, and also to the Com m ittee on
R esearch of the G raduate School of N orthw estern U niversity for generous and
successive grants-in-aid w hich facilitated the p reparation of this book.
Finally it gives m e the greatest personal pleasure to express my appre
ciation and gratitude to my colleague, P rofessor G ray C. Boyce. I am indebted
to him not only for his helpful com m ents concerning portions of the m anu
script th at he read, but above all for his selfless and perceptive consideration
in sm oothing the way during the preparation of this study. T he m easure of my
indebtedness will be best appreciated by my colleagues who also are associated
with Professor Boyce in his departm ent.
L. S. S.
Evanston, Illinois





M aps


N ote on Spelling and Place N am es




1. The Land and the People

Location Terrain Rivers and Routes Climate and Re

sources People Balkan and Western Ethnography N on
geographic Forces
2. Historical Background


Greek Period Macedon Dominates the Balkans Rome

Unites the Balkans Rome to Byzantium Coming of the
Slavs Medieval Balkan Empires Eve of the Turkish Con
quest Byzantium in Retrospect





3. Coming of the O ttom an Turks: to 1402


Pre-Ottoman Turks Osman: Founder of the Ottoman Em

pire Bases of Ottoman Power Orkhan Prepares for Con
quest State of Christendom Crossing to Europe Murad
Defeats the South Slavs Bayezid the Thunderbolt Nicopolis Crusade Timur the Lame



4. C onquest of the Balkans: 1 4 0 3 -1 4 8 1


Ottoman Recovery Murad II Varna Crusade Moham

meds Preparations Fall of Constantinople Aftermath
Mohammed Subjugates the Balkans War with Venice
5. O ttom an Em pire at Its Height: 1 4 8 1 -1 5 6 6


Bayezid II Selim I and the Trade Routes Suleiman the

Magnificent Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe Vic
tory at Mohacs Defeat at Vienna Truce on the Dan
ube Persian and Mediterranean Expeditions
6. O ttom an Institutions


Lands and Peoples Sultan and Slaves Recruiting and

Training of Slaves Armed Forces and Administration The
Moslem Institution The Divan Status of Non-Moslems
Ottoman Culture The Osmanli and the Turk
7. Balkan Peninsula under Ottom an Rule


Migrations of Peoples Administration Autonomous Re

gions Patriarchate Balkan Christianity Folk Culture Ec
clesiastical Culture Pax Ottomanica


AGE O F O T T O M A N d e c l i n e :


8. Decline of the O ttom an Em pire


Degeneration of the Dynasty Corruption of the Administra

tion Disintegration of the Armed Forces Ruling Oli
garchy Economic Subservience to the West Ottoman
and Western Military Developments Ottoman and Western
Political Evolution Western Science and Ottoman Eyes
of Oxen Plague Epidemics Ottoman Decline in Retro
9. Balkan Peninsula during O ttom an Decline


Territorial Changes Timar to Chiflik Growth of Com

merce and Industry Political Developments Passing of the
Theocratic Age Role of the Orthodox Church
10. Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube:

1 5 6 6 -1 6 9 9

Selim II: 1566-1574 Rule of the Sultanas War on the

Danube Murad IV: 1623-1640 Decline Continues: 16401656 Kiuprili Vizirs: 1656-1676 Russia and the Ukraine



Siege of Vienna: 1683 War of the Holy League: 1683
1699 Treaty of Karlowitz: 1699

11. Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1 6 9 9 -1 7 9 2


Defeat of Peter the Great Reconquest of the Pelopon

nesus War with Austria (Passarowitz Treaty: 1718) War
with Austria and Russia (Belgrade Treaty: 1739) Three
Decades of Peace: 1739-1768 Catherines First Turkish
War: 1768-1774 Catherines Second Turkish W ar: 17871792 Treaty of Sistova: 1791 Treaty of Jassy: 1792 Jassy
and the Balkans
12. The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 17921815


French Rule in the Ionian Islands Napoleon Invades Egypt:

Balkan Repercussions Selim Joins Napoleon: Balkan Reper
cussions French in Dalmatia Tilsit, Bucharest, Vienna
Balkan Aftermath




13. Dynamics of Balkan Politics: 1 8 1 5 -1 8 7 8


Continued Ottoman Decline Revolutionary Balkan Nation

alism Intervention by the Great Powers
14. The Serbian R evolution and the South Slavs to 1878


South Slavs under Foreign Rule (Slovenia, Croatia, Voivodina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia) Belgrade
Pashalik under Turkish Rule Intellectual Awakening Roots
of Revolt Course of the Revolt: 1804-1813 Winning of
Autonomy: 1813-1830 Serbia under Milosh Alexander
Karageorge: 1842-1858 The Obrenoviches to 1878 Eco
nomic Development to 1878 Hapsburg Slavs to 1878
15. Greek R evolution and Independent Statehood to 1878
Greek Imperial World Greek Peasant World Economic
Revival National Awakening Eve of Revolt Revolu
tion and Stalemate: 1821-1824 Foreign Intervention to
Navarino: 1825-1827 Navarino to Independence Polit
ical Developments to 1878 Economic Developments to 1878


16. Ottom an R eform and Near Eastern Crises: 1 8 3 1 -1 8 5 2

Mahmud and the Janissaries Near Eastern Crisis: 18311833 N ear Eastern Crisis: 1839-1841 Reshid and the
Reform Movement: 1839-1852




Crimean War: 1 8 5 3 -1 8 5 6


Strategic and Commercial Background Diplomatic Prelimi

naries Holy Places Dispute Steps to W ar War Treaty
of Paris Balkan and European Repercussions
18. M aking of Rumania to 1878


Historical Background Peasant Problem Rise of Nation

alism Winning of Unity: 1856-1859 Economic Develop
ments to 1878 Political Developments to 1878 Transyl
vania, Bukovina, and Bessarabia to 1878
19. Bulgarian Awakening to 1878


Turkish Rule Greek Prelates Regenerative Forces Cul

tural Awakening Bulgarian Exarchate Revolutionary Move
20. R eform and R evolution in the O ttom an Empire: 1 8 5 6 -1 8 7 7


N ature of Reform Problem and of Balkan Politics Failure

of Reform in the Balkans Revolution and Reaction in the
21. Balkan Crisis and the Treaty of Berlin: 1878


European Background: Three Emperors League Balkan

Background: First Balkan Alliance System Revolt in
Bosnia and Herzegovina Failure of Mediation War in the
Balkans Constantinople Conference Russo-Turkish W ar
Treaty of San Stefano Treaty of Berlin

P A R T V.


1 8 78-1914
22. Dynam ics of Balkan Politics: 1 8 7 8 -1 9 1 4


The New Imperialism The New Capitalism

23 . Making of Bulgaria: 1 8 7 8 -1 9 1 4
Dynamics of Bulgarian
1878-1885 Unification
tion of Alexander: 1886
1894 Bulgaria under
Development to 1914

Politics Russia Fails in Bulgaria:
of Bulgaria: 1885-1886 Abdica
Ferdinand and Stambulov: 1887
Ferdinand: 1894-1914 Economic



24. Serbia and the South Slavs: 1 8 7 8 -1 9 1 4

Austrias Tunis The Last Obrenovich Revolution
Revival Economic Development Hapsburg Slavs


25. Greece: 1 8 7 8 -1 9 1 4


Pursuit of Irredentism Crisis at Home Recovery under

Venizelos Economic Developments
26. Rumania: 1 8 7 8 -1 9 1 4


Aftermath of 1878: The 1883 Secret Alliance Political Evo

lution The Peasant Revolt Economic Development Ir
redentism and Foreign Policy
27. Albanian Awakening to 1914


Albania under the Turks Albanian League National Awak

ening Struggle for Autonomy William of Wied
28. Diplom atic D evelopm ents: 1 8 7 8 -1 9 1 4


Aftermath of the Berlin Congress Macedonian Problem

Macedonia, the Balkan States, and the Great Powers Young
Turk Revolt Bosnian Crisis' Balkan League First Bal
kan War Second Balkan War On the Eve


AGE O F W A R A ND CRISIS! 1 9 1 4 ----

Sarajevo and War: 1 9 1 4 -1 9 1 8


The Murder The Conspiracy War Serbias Triumph

Dardanelles and Gallipoli Bulgarias Intervention Occu
pation of Serbia Rumanian Intervention Greek Interven
tion Allied Victory

Peace Settlem ent: 1 9 1 8 -1 9 2 3


The Old Order Passes Saint Germain Treaty Trianon

Treaty Neuilly Treaty Svres Treaty Turkish Revival
Greek Crisis Greco-Turkish War Lausanne Treaty The
New Balkans

The Dynam ics of Balkan Politics: 1 9 1 8 -1 9 3 9

Economic Trends (Land Distribution, Population Pressure,
Low Productivity, External Pressures, Role of Governments,
Failure of Industrialization, German Domination, Conclu-



sion) Social and Cultural Trends (Variations, Food and
Housing, Health, Emigration, Education, State Administra
tion) Political Trends (Pattern, Agrarianism, Dictatorships,

32. Yugoslavia: 1 9 1 8 -1 9 3 9


Seeds of Disunity: Centralism versus Federalism Land Re

form Triumph of Centralism: 1921 Constitution Political
Pattern Political Deadlock: 1921-1928 Alexanders Dic
tatorship: 1929-1934 Regency: 1934-1941 Eve of War
Economic Development Social and Cultural Development
33. Bulgaria: 1 9 1 8 -1 9 3 9


Stambuliskis Regime: 1918-1923 1923 Coup Reaction:

1923-1934 Military and Royal Dictatorship: 1934-1939
Economic Development Social and Cultural Development
34. Greece: 1 9 1 8 -1 9 3 9


Republic Established: 1923-1928 Venizelist Rule: 1928

1933 Fall of the Republic: 1933-1935 Monarchy to Dic
tatorship: 1935-1936 Metaxas Dictatorship: 1936-1941
Economic Development Social and Cultural Development
35. Rumania: 19181939


Land Reform: 1918-1921 Liberal Rule: 1922-1928 Peas

ant Rule: 1928-1930 Carols Triumph: 1930-1938 Royal
Dictatorship: 1938-1940 Economic Development Social
and Cultural Development
36. Albania: 1 9 1 8 -1 9 3 9


Occupation: 19141918 Independence Regained: 1918

1920 Problems of Independence Political Instability:
1920-1924 President Zog: 1925-1928 King Zog: 19281939 Italian Occupation Economic Development Social
and Cultural Development
37. D iplom atic D evelopm ents: 1 9 1 8 -1 9 4 1
French Alliance System: 1920-1927 Italian Alliance Sys
tem: 1926-1930 Balkan Conferences: 1930-1933 Balkan
Entente: 1934 Balkan Entente Undermined: 1934-1937
German Ascendancy: 1938-1939 Balkan Entente De-



stroyed: 1939-1940 Hitlers Fateful Decision: July 31,
1940 Italian-Greek W ar: 1940-1941 Operations Marita
and Barbarossa: December, 1940 Hitler Intervenes: April
6, 1941 Swastika over the Balkans

38. Occupation, Resistance, and Liberation: 1 9 4 1 -1 9 4 5


Pattern of Occupation and Resistance Satellite Rumania

Satellite Bulgaria Occupied Yugoslavia (Partition, First Re
sistance, Titos Partisans, Mihailovichs Chetniks, Titos Tri
umph,Partisan Administration)
Occupied Greece (Occu
and Partition, National Liberation Front [EAM],
Nationalist Bands, Resistance Struggle, EAM Administra
tion) Occupied Albania The New Spirit
39. Hidden War, C old War, and Peace Settlem ent in 1947


British Agents and Balkan Guerrillas The Brute Issues

Anglo-Russian Division of the Balkans: Summer, 1944 Red
Army in Rumania and Bulgaria: Fall 1944 British Diplom
acy in Yugoslavia and Greece: Fall, 1940 Division of the
Balkans Confirmed: October, 1944 Crisis in Greece:
November-December, 1944 Battle of Athens: December,
1944January, 1945 Yalta Yalta Violated Peace Settle


N otes







following page 298



M urad IV
M oham m ed II
A Janissary
A Spahi
T ravnik, Bosnia
A Divan meeting


Title page of the first B ulgarian book

Rules of the Black H an d , or U nion or D eath , Serbian
secret society
K arageorge Petrovich
Rhigas Pheraios
A thanasios Diakos
C harles I of R um ania
F erd in an d I of B ulgaria
M ustafa K em al A tatu rk
Paul I of G reece



G erm an poster offering rew ard for capture of Tito

Stevan Filipovic calling for resistance
T ito and Pijade in L epoglava Prison
A res V elouchiotes
G eneral Stephanos Saraphis




following page 650

P oster advising G reek children to drink A m erican milk
Poverty of postw ar G reek population
Stalin D am , Bulgaria
Valley of Roses, B ulgaria
T he C astle of E urope on the Bosphorus
M ykonos Island, G reece
M osque, C onstantza, R um ania
Street with m osque, N ovi B azar, Bosnia
R um anian peasant house
G reek fisherm ens houses
B ulgarian peasant
C retan peasant
A lbanian peasant w om an spinning
Shepherd in southern Serbia
Bulgarian w om ans folk costum e
R um anian E aster eggs
Byzantine m osaics, H agia Sophia
R enaissance m osaics, St. C lem ent Basilica
St. C atherine painted on glass
C athedral of Z adar
Basilica of St. C lem ent
Suleymaniye M osque, Istanbul
H ilton H otel, Istanbul


Relief M ap of the B alkan Peninsula

front endpaper
Peoples of the Balkan Peninsula before W orld W ar II
front endpaper
Religions of the B alkan Peninsula before W orld W ar II


B ulgarian, G reek, and Serbian Medieval E m pires


Balkans after 1204

O ttom an C onquests to 1480


Siege of C onstantinople


O ttom an C onquests: 1 4 8 1 -1 6 8 3


O ttom an T erritorial Losses in the B alkans: 1 6 8 3 -1 8 1 5 176

O ttom an T erritorial Losses in the Balkans: 1815 -1 8 7 8 216
O ttom an T erritorial Losses in the B alkans: 1 8 7 8 -1913 514
T erritorial G row th of Y ugoslavia


T erritorial G row th of Bulgaria


T errito rial G row th of G reece


T errito rial G row th of R um ania


Balkans after W orld W ar I

back endpaper
B alkans after W orld W ar II
back endpaper


Note on Spelling and Place Haines

t h e s p e l l in g o f n a m e s

I h a v e s o u g h t to r e n d e r th e

originals as nearly as possible as they are actually pronounced. I have, there

fore, eschewed the conventions of m odern transliteration systems which, how
ever logical in themselves, give to the nonspecialist an entirely false im
pression of the sounds they are intended to convey. F o r this reason I have
preferred to render E nver H oxha as E nver H oja, and N ikola Pasic as N ikola
Pashich. Likewise I have followed com m on usage rather than consistency in
choosing between the original or Anglicized form s of personal names. N ikola
Pashich, for exam ple, has appeared frequently enough to be preferable to
N icholas Pashich, w hereas King G eorge obviously is m ore appropriate than
the original G eorgios. In short, I have tried to follow com m on-sense p ro
cedures in the hope of being helpful to the reader.
Closely related to the problem of spelling is that of the choice of
place nam es. Zagreb obviously should be referred to as Zagreb rather than as
A gram , its G erm an nam e. Y et the term A gram T rial will be found on sev
eral occasions in the text. T he reason is th at the use of the term Zagreb
T rial in place of the A gram T rial of 1909, appeared to be as incongruous
as the use of the term F all of Istanbul would be for the Fall of C onstanti
nople in 1453. T he lack of uniform ity may prove grating for some readers,
b u t it should not be difficult to deduce from the text and the m aps that A gram
is Zagreb, th at C onstantinople is Istanbul, and that likewise A drianople,
O skub, and D edeagach are know n today as E dirne, Skoplje, and A lexandroupolis, respectively.


Part I. Introduction

T h e L a n d

a n d

th e P e o p le

t r a v e l e r m aking his way through the B alkan lands

is im pressed above all by the countless signs of a long and varied past. H e
m ay unexpectedly pass by an old R om an bath or walk along a R om an road.
He may stop to adm ire the medieval frescoes in a Byzantine church or the
graceful m inarets of a M oslem m osque. O n the D alam atian coast he might
drive along roads built by N apoleon Bonaparte. If he passes through Split or
Spalato (the dual nam e reflects the tow ns Slavic-Italian heritag e), he will see
the rem ains of E m p ero r D iocletians palace, still form ing the center of the
town, with alleyways and streets cut through the palace room s betw een slen
der colum ns of vaulted arches. In G reece he can see the classical tem ples of
A thens, the F rankish castles of the Peloponnesus and the crum bling V ene
tian fortifications of C orfu and Crete. Everyw here in the B alkans the past
jostles the present a present sym bolized by m odern office buildings in the
capital cities and by hundreds of thousands of peasant huts in the countryside.

This variety in historical background is explained in large p a rt by
the interm ediate location of the Balkan Peninsula. Jutting southw ard into the
eastern M editerranean, it constitutes an integral p a rt of E urope. Y et at the
sam e tim e it faces A sia across the narrow A egean Sea, and its southern capes
stretch dow n tow ard the coast of A frica. T his location at the crossroads of
three continents gains added significance because of the peninsulas unusual
accessibility. In this it differs from its tw o sister peninsulas in the M editer
ranean. T he Pyrenees effectively separate the Iberian Peninsula from the rest
of E urope, and the A lps likewise shut off the Italian Peninsula. In contrast,
the D anube R iver is not a b arrier b u t rath er a link betw een the B alkans and
C entral Europe. It is a broad highway over which Slavs and G oths and H uns


and B ulgars have crossed southw ard through the centuries into the B alkan
Likewise to the west a m ere fifty miles separate the heel of the Italian
boot from the coast of A lbania. In the south the island of Crete serves as a
natu ral steppingstone betw een G reece and Egypt. A nd to the east, the islandstudded A egean has been easily crossed in both directions by colonists and
invaders on countless occasions since the days of Troy.
This central location of the peninsula explains why it has been tra d i
tionally a bridge o r a battleground of em pires and cultures. The ancient
G reeks who developed the first great center of civilization in the peninsula
ow ed m uch to their proxim ity to the Nile and T igris-E uphrates valleys. W hen
the R om an E m pire was divided in a . d . 395, the line of dem arcation betw een
E a st an d W est cut across the Balkans. This line corresponded closely to th at
which divided the C atholic world from the O rthodox when the C hristian
church split in the m edieval period. Likewise w hen the conquering T urks
w ere finally stopped at V ienna in the sixteenth century the frontier between
the C ross and the Crescent again followed the old furrow. W ith the rise in
m odern tim es of the R ussian land em pire and the British sea em pire, the
peninsula was again a zone of conflict throughout the nineteenth century. A nd
today, with the division of the world following W orld W ar II, the B alkans
once m ore are a battleground betw een E ast and West. T hus the location of
the peninsula has in large p a rt determ ined its history from the earliest times
to the present.
A lm ost as im portant as the location is the com plex terrain. An air
plane traveler m ay view in close succession fertile valleys, barren lim estone
wastes, level steppes, inaccessible m ountain forests, Norwegian-like fiords,
and hundreds of islands, large and small, set in the blue A egean and A driatic
seas. T he prevailing im pression, however, will be of the overwhelming pre
dom inance of m ountains. In fact, the nam e B alkan is derived from the
T urkish w ord for m ountain.
U nlike the Italian Peninsula with its relatively simple arrangem ent
of the Alps in the north and the A pennines running the length of the boot,
the B alkan Peninsula is crisscrossed w ith m ountain ranges running in all di
rections. If we disregard the com plexities of geologic origins and local terrain,
the m ain features of B alkan topography stand out clearly and simply.
In the far n orth the C arpathian M ountains swing around in a great
curve, with the D anube R iver breaking through at the Iron G ate, a narrow
gorge a t the w estern apex of the curve. G eographers usually consider the
D anube as the north ern lim it of the B alkan Peninsula. F rom the physi
ographic view point this is understandable, but for the historian it is unsatis
factory because it excludes the trans-D anubian R um anian lands whose de
velopm ent has been p art and parcel of general B alkan history. Accordingly
we will consider the dividing line betw een the peninsula and the rest of

The Land and the People

E urope to run the length of the Sava R iver to its junction with the D anube
at Belgrade, then dow n the D anube from Belgrade to the Iron G ate, and
finally around the C arpathians to the R ussian frontier to the northeast. This
line should not be taken too literally. G eography and politics rarely are in
accord in the B alkans, and today we find th at Y ugoslavia at one point pro
trudes northw ard above the D anube, and th a t R um ania extends far beyond
the C arpathians to include the whole province of Transylvania. F o r m ost of
the course of B alkan history, however, the line delineated above will be found
to be the m ost m eaningful.
C onsidering next the m ountains south of the D anube, we encounter
first the B alkan range, which runs east and west to the south of the D anube
and which is really the southw ard extension of the C arpathians. This range
reaches a m axim um height of nearly eight thousand feet in the center, but in
its eastern section it gradually decreases in height until it levels down to low
hills at the shore of the Black Sea. It is im portant to note th at the B alkan
range offers no serious obstacle to p enetration from the north. The invader
m ay skirt the range at its eastern end by pushing down the Black Sea coast. O r
he may advance further to the west through any one of several passes, in
cluding the Shipka, the Isker, and the B aba K onak, all of which are relatively
easy to cross.
South of the B alkan range lie the R hodope M ountains. T he two
chains m eet in the region of Sofia in the , h eart of the peninsula. F rom th a t
point the R hodope M ountains run in a southeasterly direction, gradually de
creasing in altitude until they becom e low foothills when they reach the
Aegean. B etw een the B alkan and R hodope ranges is the broad valley of the
M aritsa (E v ro s) River. This is one of the m ost considerable tracts of low
land in the peninsula, and it continues as an undulating plain beyond the
M aritsa to Istanbul. A sim ilar, though interrupted and narrow er, belt of
plain is to be found betw een the R hodope and the Aegan.
In the w estern p art of the peninsula the m ountain chains run parallel
to the coast line. In the long stretch from T rieste to the southern tip of
G reece they are divided into three well-defined sections. T he northernm ost,
know n as the D inaric A lps, extends the length of the A driatic coast of Y ugo
slavia in a southeasterly direction. T his is followed by the A lbanian M oun
tains which ru n alm ost due north-south from the m outh of the D rin to
V alona. A t the latter point the m ountains resum e a southeasterly course and
cross into G reece, w here they are know n as the Pindus M ountains. These
extend the length of G reece and finally swing around to a west to east di
rection, w hen they em erge from the A egean to form the island of Crete.
T he n o rth ern half of these w estern m ountains is of lim estone form a
tion w ith very thin surface soil and frequent patches of exposed bare rock.
R unning w ater is usually absent, as m ost of the stream s, after a short dis
tance, sink through the porous lim estone into underground cavities and
em erge later as full-grow n rivers at the sea m argin or even as springs b u b
bling up on the sea floor. Consequently this region is extrem ely difficult to


cross because of the alm ost com plete lack of continuous river valleys to serve
as n atu ral routes. These ranges not only form a barrier betw een the sea and
the interior but also offer little sustenance for hum an habitation because of
their poor soil and m eager resources. Thus this w estern m ountain area is
noted for its poverty and isolation.
The rugged and com plex topography of m ost of the peninsula has
profoundly influenced its political developm ent. It has prevented unification
and encouraged isolation and particularism . A com parison of Italian and
B alkan history will illustrate this point. T here were G reeks in antiquity in
south Italy and Sicily as well as in the B alkans, and beyond were the b a r
barians L atins in the one case, T hraco-Illyrians in the other. W hy did the
Latins succeed in form ing a state and an em pire while the T hraco-lllyrians
failed? W hy also did the G reeks fail to produce a unified state? One im por
ta n t factor was the far greater geographic diversity of the Balkans, which
tended to the form ation of local units rath er th an a unified state or empire.
N ow here in the peninsula is there to be found a natural center around which
a great state might crystallize. Thus B alkan unity in the past has not risen
from w ithin but has been forced from w ithout by foreign conquerors, first
the R om ans and then the Turks.
T he m ountainous character of the peninsula enhances the im portance
of its rivers as natural routes of penetration. O f all the B alkan rivers the
D anube is by far the m ost outstanding, both in length and in historical sig
nificance. Rising in southern G erm any, it runs through A ustria, Czechoslo
vakia, and H ungary before reaching the peninsula. T hen it flows quietly
through the north Yugoslav plains until it reaches the C arpathians, where it
narrow s suddenly to a q u arter of its previous width and rushes through the
fam ous Iro n G ate with tow ering granite walls rising twenty-five hundred feet
on either side. Beyond, it resum es its leisurely course eastw ard, with the broad
R um an ian plains on the left and the rolling Bulgarian hills to the right. Sud
denly and perversely it shifts to the north, thereby ending its function as a
natural frontier betw een R um ania and Bulgaria and so giving rise to endless
disputes and periodic wars betw een the two countries. Finally, about one
hundred miles to the north it shifts once m ore eastw ard, finally reaching the
B lack Sea.
T his magnificent river, the longest in E urope with the exception of
the Volga, is navigable for m ost of its course. T hus from prehistoric times
it has served as a natural highway, beckoning invaders and settlers and m er
chants, and linking the peninsula with C entral E urope to the west and with
the R ussian steppes to the east.
Several tributaries flow from the interior of the peninsula into the
D anube. F rom the northw est the Sava R iver runs due east until it joins
the D anube w here B elgrade is located. A b o u t tw enty miles further down the
D anube the M orava R iver flows in, m aking its way northw ard from the cen

The Land and the People

ter of the peninsula. Still farth er to the east a num ber of short Bulgarian
rivers em pty their w aters into the D anube, the m ost im portant being the
Isker, which connects Sofia with the D anubian lowlands.
C onsidering next the rivers th at flow south to the Aegean, the chief
ones in order from east to west are the M aritsa, the Strum a (S try m o n ), and
the V ardar (A x io s). T he M aritsa for m ost of its course runs between the
Balkan and R hodope ranges in a southeasterly direction as though it were
to end in the B lack Sea. T hen it turns suddenly due south at A drianople
and flows into the A egean, and in doing so it fairly draws Bulgaria down to
the coastal region. This twist of the M aritsa, like th at of the D anube, has had
lasting political repercussions. It has encouraged the inland Bulgarians to eye
the ports of Kavalla and A lexandroupolis (D edeagach) and thus has brought
them into conllict with the m aritim e G reeks determ ined to m aintain their grip
on the coast. A t the other end of the north A egean coast the V ard ar River
and the great p o rt near its m outh, Saloniki, form the natural outlet for the
M acedonian hinterland. H ere again there is conllict, in this case further com
plicated by the fact th at Serbians as well as Bulgarians seek to reach the sea
through the usual fringe of G reek settlem ent along the coast.
O n the w estern coast of the peninsula the rivers are infrequent and
unim portant. Since the ranges there run parallel to the coast, the rivers are
usually short and find their way to the sea only after m any twists and falls.
Thus, despite the length of the coast, the only rivers w orth noting are the
N cretva (N a re n ta ) half way up the A driatic, the Drin and the Shkum bi in
north and central A lbania respectively, and the A cheloos in G reece. N one of
these approach the central or eastern B alkan rivers in their influence on the
history of the peninsula.
W ith the exception of the D anube, m ost of the B alkan rivers are of
little value for navigation, for they shrink to shallow stream s during the hot
sum m ers and their m ouths are blocked by silt carried down from the uplands.
Since prehistoric times, however, the river valleys have served as natural
routes for penetration into the interior. A s noted above, the D anube has
been the traditional route traversed by peoples m oving westward from A sia.
The great open road leads all the way from M ongolia and the G obi Desert,
through Chinese and R ussian T urkestan, around the n o rthern end of the
C aspian Sea, and along the north coast of the Black Sea to the D anube V al
ley, and then either south to the B alkans or further up the valley to C entral
E urope.
F o r those w ho during the course of the centuries have turned south
w ard, a num ber of routes have pointed the way to the w arm w ater and blue
skies of the Aegean. A t the northw estern tip of the peninsula, the Peartree
Pass opens a passage southw ard to the p o rts of Trieste and Fium e on the
A driatic Sea. In the center of the peninsula the M orava R iver offers passage
southeast to C onstantinople and also directly south to Saloniki. Starting
at Belgrade, one m ay journey up the M orava to the city of N ish, cross the
m ountains to Sofia, follow the M aritsa Valley to Edirne (A d ria n o p le), and


then strike across the T hracian plateau to Istanbul (C o n stan tin o p le). This
route, originally one of the m ost fam ous of the R om an roads in the B alkans,
is now follow ed by the internationally know n O rient Express. A lm ost as im
p o rta n t in B alkan history is the north-south route, which follows the C o n
stantinople ro ad from Belgrade to N ish, w here it strikes southw ard across
the w atershed to the V ard ar Valley and dow n th at valley to the p o rt of
Saloniki. In the eastern p art of the peninsula one can follow the B lack Sea
coast from the m outh of the D anube southw ard to C onstantinople, thus
avoiding the B alkan an d R hodope ranges. Finally there is the all-w ater
route passing C onstantinople from the B lack Sea through the B osphorus, the
Sea of M arm ora, and the D ardanelles to the A egean.
T hese routes have always figured prom inently in Balkan history be
cause the m ountain barriers of the peninsula constitute the great natural o b
stacle separating the lan d pow ers of C entral and E astern E urope from the
M ed iterranean Sea. It is not surprising, therefore, th at Trieste, Saloniki, and
C onstantinople, the term ini of the overland Balkan routes, traditionally have
been contested by the m aritim e pow ers seeking to retain control of the M edi
terran ean and by the land pow ers attem pting to expand to the sea. T hus in
the nineteenth century the Italians eyed A ustrian-held Trieste while the
B ritish were always ready to block an A ustrian move tow ard Saloniki o r a
R ussian m ove to C onstantinople. Likew ise during the Cold W ar th at fol
lowed W orld W ar II, the W estern pow ers consistently sought to keep Russia
out of the M editerranean by bolstering the Italians in Trieste, the G reeks in
Saloniki, and the T urks in C onstantinople.
N ext to location and terrain, the factor which has m ost deeply influ
enced hum an life on the peninsula is the clim ate, mainly through its effect
on natural vegetation and cultivated crops. T he whole peninsula is situated
w ithin the T em perate Zone, b u t the clim ate varies sharply, w ith differences in
altitude and in proxim ity to the M editerranean.
D isregarding local variations, tw o m ain types of clim ate prevail, the
M editerranean and the C ontinental. Included w ithin the area of the M editer
ranean clim ate are the southern p art of G reece and two narrow coastal strips
along the A egean to C onstantinople and along the A driatic to Trieste. T he
rem aining interior, w hich constitutes by far the larger proportion of the
peninsula, is subject to the C ontinental clim ate.
T h e distinguishing characteristic of the M editerranean clim ate is the
long dry sum m er, w ith one sunny day regularly following another. This ap
peals to the tourist, though the tem perature at m idday soars high and the
local peoples take refuge in their siesta. In the late afternoon cool breezes
blow off the sea, the tem p eratu re drops, and life begins to stir once more.
H ence the late dinner h o u r and the prolonged night life typical of the M edi
terran ean world.
In the autum n the first rains fall and the parched earth suddenly turns

The Land and the People

green. This is the tim e for sowing, and the harvesting m ust be com pleted
before sum m er, w hen the drought once m ore sets in. T he constant fear of the
farm er is that the autum n rains may com e late or that the drought may start
prem aturely in the spring. This explains why the traditional M editerranean
products are olives, grapes, figs, and citrus fruits rather th an grain cereals,
which require m ore regular rainfall. Likewise the lack of forests and grassy
pastures m eans th at the goat and the sheep in the M editerranean areas take
the place of the cow and the pig in the central Balkans. It is quite natural,
therefore, th a t the tourist will be treated to roast suckling pig and plum
brandy in Belgrade, and to skew ered lam b and wine in A thens.
T he C ontinental clim ate differs from the M editerranean in two prin
cipal respccts: the rainfall is distributed m ore evenly through the year and
the winters are m uch colder and m ore prolonged. It follows th at the vege
tation of the interior is correspondingly different from th at of the coastal
areas. In contrast to the rocky and denuded m ountains of the south, the
central highlands are covered with forests, both deciduous and evergreen.
Likewise the valleys are sufficiently well w atered to grow w heat, rye, oats,
corn, Hax, and o th er products typical of the whole of C entral E urope. F u r
ther north the broad D anubian plains of north ern Y ugoslavia and particularly
of R um ania are rem iniscent of the fertile U kraine or of the A m erican M id
west. C orn, oats, and especially w heat are grow n in such quantities th at this
region traditionally has been the breadbasket of W estern E urope, though in
recent decades it has suffered severely from overseas com petition.
The central and coastal areas differ m arkedly n o t only in their clim ate
and vegetation b u t also in their m ineral resources. Greece on the whole is
poorly endow ed in this respect, though she does possess considerable qu an
tities of bauxite, nickel, chrom ite, and some lignite. F urtherm ore, recent in
vestigations indicate th at a thorough geologic survey might reveal far richer
resources th an hitherto suspected. In the n orthern B alkan countries the
m ineral o u tp u t is m uch m ore varied and valuable. T his is especially true of
Y ugoslavia, which produces copper, lead, zinc, bauxite, iron, chrom e, anti
m ony, gold, silver, and lignite, and is generally considered to possess m any
rich deposits still unexplored. Likew ise R um ania is notew orthy for her oil
fields, by far the largest of the C ontinent west of the Caucasus.
A t this point it should be noted th at the econom y of the peninsula
and the living standards of its peoples have been affected to a surprisingly
slight degree by this m ineral w ealth. T he reason is th at m any of these re
sources have been exploited by foreign capital, with m uch of the profit and
m ost of the raw m aterial exported abroad. As an exam ple, bauxite is found
in G reece close to th e hydroelectric pow er necessary to transform it into
alum inum . N evertheless, the bauxite up to the present tim e is shipped to
W estern E u ro p e fo r refining while G reece continues to use her scanty for
eign exchange to im port the finished prod u ct and the large rural surplus
population continues to be tragically underem ployed.
This situation has prevailed in the past throughout the peninsula,


thereby explaining the predom inantly ru ral com plexion of its population. On
the eve of W orld W ar 11 three out of every four people in the B alkans were
dependent upon agriculture o r forestry for their livelihood. Even in G reece,
with its ab undant ports an d unique opportunities for trade, two thirds of the
people live in the countryside. This dependence upon agriculture has pro
duced dire results because the am ount of land is lim ited and the birth rate in
the peninsula is one of the highest in E urope. This com bination of circum
stances has led to a constantly increasing rural overpopulation which the
puny industrial system has thus far been unable to absorb. As will be noted
in the concluding chapters, this is one of the m ost urgent and basic problem s
confronting B alkan governm ents and peoples today.
T his leads us to consideration of the several ethnic groups inhabit
ing the peninsula at present. W ho are these Balkan peoples, w here did they
com e from , and where do they live? A glance at an ethnographic m ap of
the peninsula shows th at B alkan ethnography is as com plex as B alkan terrain.
C loser exam ination reveals a pattern of four principal races and several
scattered m inorities.
T he m ost num erous of the four races are the South Slavs, who have
settled in a great belt across the central B alkans from the A driatic to the
B lack seas. T hese Slavs are divided into four subgroups: the Slovenes at the
head of the A driatic, the C roatians further to the southeast, the Serbians in
the central Balkans around the M orava River, and the Bulgarians in the re
m aining territory to the B lack Sea. T he oth er three races are the R um anians
to the north of the Slavs, and the G reeks and the A lbanians to the south.
T he circum stances in which these races appear in the Balkans will be
considered in detail in the following tw o chapters. Suffice it to note here th at
in classical tim es the ancient G reeks inhabited the southern part of the penin
sula as their descendants do today, and that to the northw est and the north
east were tw o b arb arian peoples, the Illyrians and the T hracians, respectively.
T he Illyrians originally inhabited m ost of present-day Yugoslavia but later
were forced southw ard by the Slav invaders. T hus today the descendants of
these Illyrians, know n as the A lbanians, occupy only a small m ountainous
area along the southern A driatic coast. T he T hracians fared even worse at
the hands of the Slavs. T hey w ere so effectively dispersed or absorbed th at
only a few survivors rem ain today. T hese are known as the Vlachs, a wild
and largely nom adic group of shepherds and cattle breeders who are to be
found scattered in m ountainous areas throughout the peninsula. T heir total
n um ber at the beginning of this century has been estim ated at 140,000. Since
then they have steadily dw indled because of assim ilation with their sedentary
T he people to be considered next in chronological order, the R u m a
nians, are the descendants of the early D acians, w ho were subjected to
R o m an rule a . d . 107 to 274. D uring this period they were R om anized to a

The Land and the People

considerable degree, interm arrying with their conquerors and adopting their
language. H ence the origin of the term R u m an ian and the basically L atin
character of the m odern R u m anian language. N ationalistic R um anians have
considered them selves with pride as a L atin island in a sea of Slavic b a r
barians. In actual fact the R om an strain has been greatly diluted through
centuries of successive invasions, and Slavic and A siatic elem ents are prom i
nent both in the present-day R um anian people and in their language.
T he m ost radical change in the racial com position of the peninsula
occurred in the sixth and seventh centuries with the invasions of Slavic tribes
originating in the low-lying areas n o rth of the C arpathians. By sheer weight
of num bers they pushed back or assim ilated the Illyrians and T hracians, and
at times even m enaced the E ast R om an or Byzantine E m pire with its capital
at C onstantinople. As noted earlier, these newcomers gradually settled down
in the central Balkans and developed as separate Slovenian, C roatian, and
Serbian peoples. T ow ard the end of the seventh century some of these Slavs
were conquered in turn by the Bulgarians, an A siatic people related to the
earlier Huns. T he Bulgarians, how ever, were few in num ber and soon were
so com pletely assim ilated by their subjects that only their nam e persists to
the present. T he m odern Bulgarians, therefore, are considered one of the
South Slavic subgroups, and are, in fact, com pletely Slavic in language, gen
eral culture, and physical appearance.
In this m anner the peninsula acquired its basic ethnic pattern over
one thousand years ago. Since then several m inority groups have appeared in
varying circum stances. T he T urkish dom ination of the B alkans from the fif
teenth to the early tw entieth centuries led to a scattering of isolated Turkish
ethnic islands. W ith the recession of their em pire, m ost of these T urks re
turned to their hom eland, so that insignificant rem nants are left in the penin
sula today. T he only exception is to be found in the area im m ediately to the
west of C onstantinople. This area, know n as E astern or T urkish T hrace, is
the only p art of the peninsula rem aining to the T urks, and its population of
about half a m illion, or one million if Istanbul is included, is alm ost entirely
Turkish rule in the B alkans had a m ore perm anent effect in the reli
gious field. A lthough the T urks did not attem pt forcibly to convert their
C hristian subjects, som e nevertheless accepted Islam in order to escape cer
tain disabilities to which all non-M oslem s were subject. Consequently sizable
M oslem m inorities are to be found in the B alkans today. O ne and a half
m illion are in Y ugoslavia, m ost of them in Bosnia. A n other 720,000 are in
A lbania, w here they constitute the m ajority of the total population of slightly
over 1,000,000. Bulgaria has 100,000 so-called Pom aks who are B ulgarian
speaking M oslem s w hose Slavic ancestors were converted in the seventeenth
B alkan ethnography was fu rth er com plicated by the practice of the
T urkish and A ustrian governm ents of deliberately planting colonies along
their frontiers as a defense against the enem y. T he H apsburgs, for exam ple,



settled G erm ans along the D anube, so th at prior to W orld W ar II R um ania

had a G erm an m inority of about 75 0 ,0 0 0 and Yugoslavia had about 500,000.
Sim ilarly, the T urks settled M oslem T atars in the D obruja to guard the route
to C onstantinople, and over 170,000 are still to be found there.
Jews have also played an im portant role in the econom ic life of the
peninsula, particularly during the T urkish period. Before W orld W ar II about
1,000,000 were living in R um ania, w here they had m igrated from R ussia and
P oland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A pproxim ately another
170,000 w ere scattered in B ulgaria, Y ugoslavia, and G reece, m ost of these
being descendants of sixteenth-century refugees from Spain and Portugal,
w ho were given asylum by the T urks.
A nother sm all m inority are the gypsies, num bering approxim ately

The Land and the People


500,000. Some of them are nom adic, b u t the m ajority inhabit quarters on the
outskirts of towns and villages and eke out a m iserable livelihood as smiths,
peddlers, m usicians, porters, and scavengers.
Finally it should be noted th at the tw o w orld wars served to simplify
this ethnic interm ixture som ew hat, though at appalling cost to the hapless
m inorities th at were uprooted or in som e cases exterm inated. Follow ing
W orld W ar I, G reece, Turkey, and B ulgaria agreed to exchange their respec
tive m inorities, and a total of 40 0 ,0 0 0 T urks, 25 0 ,000 Bulgarians, and
1,300,000 G reeks w ere repatriated. D uring the G erm an occupation of the
B alkans in W orld W ar II a large p ro p o rtio n of the Jews w ere shipped to the
exterm ination cam ps of G erm any and Poland. Follow ing the w ar m any of
the surviving Jew s sought refuge in the new state of Israel. Paradoxically
enough, the other Balkan m inority th at was greatly reduced as a result of
W orld W ar II was the G erm an. Some of the Yugoslav and R um anian G er
m ans enlisted in the W ehrmacht and few of them returned. O thers fled with
the retreating G erm an arm ies in the closing m onths of the w ar. M any of
those who rem ained behind were forcibly transported to Russia. T hus H itlers
attem pt to win breathing space in E astern E urope for the G erm an people
led rather to the decim ation of centuries-old G erm an colonies in the Balkans.
It is apparent from this survey th at A lbania, G reece, and Bulgaria
are ethnically hom ogeneous countries, particularly as a result of the exchange
of m inorities after W orld W ar I. A lbania has a sm all G reek m inority in the
south, and G reece has an equally small Slav enclave on her northern frontier,
but these are insignificant exceptions, even though diplom atically trouble
some. Bulgaria also has a small M oslem m inority, but this is disappearing as
a result of em igration to Turkey precipitated by repressive m easures adopted
by the Bulgarian governm ent in 1950.
In contrast, R um ania and Y ugoslavia inherited large m inority groups
in the provinces they acquired from the H apsburg Em pire. A ccording to the
1948 census, Y ugoslavia has a total population of 15,751,935, of which 14,00 0 ,000 are South Slavs. T he principal m inority elem ents are 400,000 H u n
garians, an equal num ber of A lbanians, 180,000 R um anians, and 100,000
Italians. T he Yugoslav population also is divided in its religious affiliations.
T he O rthodox C hristians (m ostly Serbs) constitute 50 per cent, the R om an
Catholics (C roatians, Slovenes, and Italian s) 3 3 V& per cent, the M oslems 11
per cent, and the P rotestants, Jews and G reek Catholics the rem aining 5 %
per cent.
R um ania, according to the 1948 census, has a total population of
15,872,624, in contrast to alm ost 20,0 0 0 ,0 0 0 in 1939. T he decrease is due
m ainly to the loss of B essarabia and B ukovina to the Soviet U nion and to the
drastic reduction in the num ber of Jew s and G erm ans. T he principal m inor
ities now are the 1,499,851 H ungarians (1 ,3 8 7 ,7 1 9 in 1 9 3 0 ), the 343,913
G erm ans (7 2 0 ,0 0 0 in 1930) and the 138,795 Jews (1 ,0 0 0 ,0 0 0 in 1 9 3 0 ).
The m inority peoples at present constitute 13 per cent of the total population,
in contrast to approxim ately 25 per cent before W orld W ar II. The R um a-



nians, like the Yugoslavs, are also divided in their religious affiliations, al
though the p roportion of R om an Catholics is m uch less than in Y ugoslavia
with its C atholic C roatians and Slovenes. A ccording to 1946 estim ates, 81
p er cent of the R um anian population is G reek O rthodox, 9 per cent G reek
C atholic, 7 p er cent R om an C atholic, and 3 per cent Jews, P rotestants and
M oslems.
A relevant question is why four m ajor racial strains and several m inor
ones have persisted in an area not quite the size of Texas. T he geographic
factors analyzed earlier provide a partial explanation. T he location and the
accessibility of the peninsula have led to frequent and prolonged invasions
from the outside. T he struggle against these invasions undoubtedly has hin
dered the process of racial assim ilation which has been the characteristic de
velopm ent in W estern E urope. T he com plex terrain is also an im portant fac
tor. If the peninsula had been a plateau instead of a highly m ountainous and
diversified region it is probable that the various races would have am alga
m ated to a considerable degree. A com m on Balkan ethnic strain might have
evolved, which certainly would have varied in com position from one locality
to another, just as the G enoese differ m arkedly from the N eapolitans, yet
would have constituted a unit in place of the present separate peoples.
Differences in historical background and in cultural tradition also
have contributed to ethnic separatism . T he B alkan races do not have the
bond of a com m on R om an cultural tradition as do W estern Europeans. W hen
the C hristian church split in the eleventh century into its E astern and W estern
branches, the Slovenes and the C roatians were left in the realm of the Pope
of Rom e while the G reeks, Serbians, Bulgarians, and Rum anians fell to the
P atriarch of C onstantinople. W hen the T urks later conquered most of the
peninsula this cultural cleavage was deepened. During most of four centuries
the C roatians and the Slovenes lived under H apsburg rule while the other
B alkan peoples lived under th at of the sultan. Such basic and lasting separa
tions in governm ent, religion, and general culture inevitably have left deep
m arks. T o the present day a cultural dividing line runs across the peninsula,
w ith C atholic C hristianity, the L atin alphabet, and a W estern cultural orien
tation on the one side, and O rthodox C hristianity, the G reek alphabet, and
a Byzantine cultural pattern on the other. The internal dissension in Y ugo
slavia in the period between the two world wars bears witness to the lasting
significance of this cleavage.
These factors help to explain the fundam ental difference betw een the
ethnic evolution of W estern E u ro p e and the Balkans. W estern E urope is in
habited today by large, hom ogeneous national groups such as the French, the
Spaniards, the G erm ans, and the B ritish. It does not follow, however, th a t
there are few er racial strains in the W est than in the E ast. If we look behind
the faade of national unity we find Iberian, L igurian, F rankish, N orm an, and
G allic strains in the French; Slavic, Celtic, Baltic, and T eutonic strains in the

The Land and the People


G erm ans; and Celtic, A nglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and N orm an strains in the
B ritish. In other w ords, the difference betw een E ast and W est is not in the
num ber of com ponent strains but rath er in the p articular circum stances w hich
m ade possible the unification of several strains into a national unit in the one
case, and which prevented such a unification in the other.
T hus the unique feature of B alkan ethnic evolution is th at virtually
all the races th at have actually settled there in the past, as distinguished
from those th at have sim ply m arched through, have been able to preserve
their identity to the present. T he significance of this may be illustrated by
imagining a B alkan type of ethnic developm ent in England. H ad that occurred
we would m eet, in a journey through E ngland today, B ritons speaking W elsh,
Rom ans speaking Latin, Angles and Saxons speaking their G erm anic dialects,
Scandinavians speaking D anish, and N orm ans speaking Old French. F u rth e r
m ore, religious diversity would m atch the ethnic. Some of these peoples
would be Rom an C atholic, others A nglican, and still others N onconform ists
of various types.
In an English setting such a situation seems fantastic. A nd yet this
preservation of ethnic groups through the centuries is precisely w hat has h ap
pened in the Balkans. T his is one of the unique and fundam ental factors th at
has inlluenced the historical developm ent of the peninsula to the present.

T he influence of geography upon history having been noted it should
be em phasized now th at geography is only one of several factors. O therwise
we run the risk of geographic determ inism , which can be as m isleading as
econom ic determ inism . C ertainly various nongeographic forces have m ade
their influence felt strongly from the outset. This will becom e apparent as we
trace the course of Balkan history in the following chapters. However, the
m ost im portant of these factors will be m entioned here, to be kept in mind
as guideposts.
F irst it should be noted th at the past even the very distant past
and the present are side by side in the Balkans. C enturies chronologically
rem ote from each other are really contem porary. G overnm ents and peoples,
particularly intellectuals, have based their attitudes and actions on w hat
happened, or w hat they believe to have happened, centuries ago. T he reason
is th at during the alm ost five centuries of T urkish rule the B alkan peoples
had no history. T im e stood still for them . Consequently when they won their
independence in the nineteenth century their point of reference was to the preT urkish period to th e m edieval ages or beyond. T hus the R um anians have
looked back with pride to their L atin origin in R om an tim es, the G reeks to
the classical period and to the great Byzantine E m pire, the Serbians and the
Bulgarians to their respective m edieval em pires controlling a large p a rt of
the peninsula, and the A lbanians to their Illyrian background and to their
fifteenth-century hero, G eorge Skanderbeg.



This obsession with the past has its ludicrous aspects. A lexander the
G reat is claim ed by the G reeks as a M acedonian G reek. H e is also claim ed
by the A lbanians, who issued coins bearing his image. A nd he is claim ed by
the Bulgarians, who exhorted their armies in W orld W ar I to revive the
fam e of the great B ulgarian, A lexander the G reat. M ore serious have been
the political repercussions of this living in the past. Peaceful inter-B alkan
relations were scarcely likely in the face of sim ultaneous attem pts to revive
the m edieval G reek, B ulgarian, and Serbian em pires. Thus historical tra d i
tion has been an im portant factor, and usually a disturbing factor, in B alkan
affairs in the m odern period.
E qually significant has been the influence of the great powers. A t
tim es this influence has been unconscious, as when F rench R evolutionary
ideology, R om anticism , Pan-Slavism , socialism, and com m unism seeped into
the peninsula from the outside to affect its destinies decisively. A t other times
the great powers have intervened purposefully to enthrone Balkan kings, to
determ ine B alkan frontiers, and to cajole or force B alkan governm ents into
alliance systems or even into war. W hether deliberate o r not, the influence of
foreign pow ers runs like a red thread through B alkan history from the days
of the C rusades to the days of the C om inform and the T rum an D octrine.
T he final factor to be kept in m ind is the changing econom ic relation
ship between the B alkans and the W est. In the ancient and medieval periods
the B alkan area was an im portant center of industry and com m erce while
W estern E urope was a relatively prim itive agrarian region. W ith the T urkish
conquest and the Com m ercial and Industrial Revolutions this situation was
reversed. The O ttom an E m pire and the succession B alkan states becam e in
the m odern period virtual econom ic appendages of the W est. They have
served as a source of raw m aterials for W estern factories and as m arkets for
W estern capital and m anufactured goods. T hus the B alkan econom y becam e
passive and predom inantly agrarian. This econom y has been unable to m eet
adequately the needs of the rapidly growing B alkan population. T he result
has been a profound econom ic and social dislocation which in turn has af
fected political institutions. T hus B alkan history in the m odern period is
explainable in large p art in term s of the im pact of the dynam ic, industrial
W estern society upon the static, agrarian Balkan society. In this sense the
B alkan problem is merely a local m anifestation of the w orld-wide problem
of the adjustm ent of backw ard areas to the W estern industrial civilization
th at has enveloped the globe.


H isto ric a l B a c k g r o u n d

A h e B a l k a n s t a t e s are newcom ers in the family of

E uropean nations. F o u r of the five states m ade their appearance in the course
of the nineteenth century, while the fifth did ,not m aterialize until the begin
ning of the tw entieth. It does not follow, however, that the B alkan peoples
lack a sense of historical consciousness. Precisely the opposite is the case.
F or over four centuries the Balkan peoples were under the dom ination of the
Turks. These centuries becam e a blank in their histories, so that when they
were once m ore free they naturally looked back to their respective periods of
im perial pow er and glory: the Bulgarians to their T sar Simeon, the A u to
crat of the G reeks, the Serbians to their great D ushan, conqueror of m ost of
the peninsula, and the G reeks to their Byzantine em peror, Basil the BulgarSlayer, or further back still, to the glories of their classical age. These trad i
tions are alive and real, and are taken quite seriously, particularly in support
ing territorial claims. F o r a W estern parallel to m odern B alkan territorial
aspirations based on such historical precedents, one m ust im agine a British
statesm an citing the em pire of E dw ard III as justification for claim ing half of
m odern France. Such have been the force and the persistence of historical
tradition in the B alkan Peninsula.

The first great civilization of the B alkan Peninsula and of the W est
ern w orld developed on the shores and islands of the A egean Sea. This was
the p a rt of the peninsula th at was closest to the fertile, sheltered valleys of the
Nile and the T igris-E uphrates, w here the earliest civilizations of m ankind
were born. This was also the p art of the peninsula th at has felt from time
im m em orial the stim ulating influence of the M ed iterranean Sea.
In few regions of the w orld does the sea hold such attractions for
man. First there is the M editerranean itself, with its clear skies, light sum m er
winds, and lew strong currents. N ow here else arc waters so safe and clim atic



conditions so favorable for prim itive vessels propelled by oars or sails. T hen
there is the deeply indented coast of southern G reece, w ith its uninterrupted
succession of channels, gulfs, and harbors; and in the distance, one island
following another to the coast of A sia M inor. T he m ariner can scud along,
from point to point, from island to island, never losing sight of land, never
feeling lost betw een the sea and the sky. A nd finally there is the rugged
m ainland, alm ost entirely lacking in spacious plains, and divided by a jum ble
of m ountain chains into a series of valleys hem m ed in on all sides save th at
facing the sea. T he people penned up in these valleys, or on the islands, were
literally driven to the sea: to trade if they had a surplus of wine or oil; to
colonize if their lands could not support them .
T his natural environm ent helps to explain the distinguishing charac
teristics of the earliest B alkan civilization, th a t of the G reeks, with its m ari
tim e trade and colonization that were novelties in hum an history up to that
tim e; its sovereign and self-governing com m unities th at contrasted so m ark
edly to the absolutist m onarchies of the O rient; its lack of political unity and
susceptibility to foreign invasion; and its contacts with overseas cultures from
which it borrow ed freely but never im itated slavishly.
T he first great center of G reek culture nourished on the island of
C rete from 3400 B.C. to 1100 B.C., a period of over two thousand years.
C rete is situated some sixty miles from the Balkan Peninsula, four hundred
miles from Egypt, and a little over one hundred miles from Asia M inor. This
central location m ade the island the natural interm ediary in the transm ission
and transm utation of the E gyptian and M esopotam ian cultures to the Balkan
m ainland.
T he precise natu re and extent of C retan influence upon the Balkans
have not been determ ined. It is not know n, for exam ple, w hether the C retans
actually em igrated and founded settlem ents on the m ainland. T here is no
question, however, about the influence of C retan culture upon the m ainland
inhabitants. These were the A chaeans, the vanguard of a roundheaded A lpine
people know n as the H ellenes, who m igrated in successive waves from C en
tral E u ro p e into the Balkans. The com paratively backw ard A chaeans quickly
adopted the m ain features of C retan culture and developed a center of their
own at M ycenae, in the n ortheastern p a rt of the Peloponnesus. M ycenaean
culture gradually spread from the coastal areas to the interior of Greece.
T he M ycenaeans eventually becam e sufficiently strong to turn against
their tutors. A bout 1400 B.C. they assaulted and overran Crete. T hen they
conducted a com bination of piracy, trade, and colonization in the Aegean
and M editerranean, and on to Syria and A sia M inor. A bout 1200 B.C. they
launched their fam ous expedition against Troy, m em ories of which have been
preserved for posterity in the Iliad and O dyssey of H om er.
M eanw hile, the pressure of the b arb arian T hracians and Illyrians in
the north had forced the D orians into the southern Balkans. T he Dorians
were of the sam e H ellenic race as the A chaeans and spoke a dialect of the
sam e language. A b o u t 1100 b .c . their slow infiltration turned into an invasion.

Historical Background


A lthough barbarians in com parison to the M yeenaeans, the D orians were in

vincible with their iron weapons. C entral G reece, the Peloponnesus, Crete, and
the Aegean isles fell to the conquerors. W hereas the A chaeans had adopted
and preserved the A egean civilization of Crete, although in a coarser form ,
the D orians destroyed all th at rem ained of it. T he A egean w orld passed
into a D ark A ge from which gradually em erged the civilization of classical
H om ers epics reveal the prim itive agricultural and pastoral society
of the early Hellenes. This H om eric Age, as it is com m only called, began to
give way in the ninth century under the im pact of new forces. H om eric
Greece was tribal, aristocratic, agricultural, and confined to the A egean
Basin. By the end of the sixth century all this had changed. T he tribe had
given way to the city-state; other social classes had risen to equality with the
nobility; industry and com m erce had com e to play a considerable role; and
G reek colonies were to be found scattered on all the M editerranean shores.
W ith these changes the way was cleared for the Classical Age begin
ning in the fifth century. T he G reeks now m ade their unique and well-known
contributions to W estern civilization. A lthough handicapped by their incura
ble particularism and by the poverty of their technology, they succeeded
nevertheless in em ancipating the hum an m ind from the supernaturalism and
intolerance which had characterized ancient O riental civilization. Following
the lead of philosophers rath er than of priests or prophets, they created a new
art, ethics, and literature, and established criteria of behavior based on secu
larism and hum anism . Historically viewed, their contributions unveiled a new
world for W estern man.
O ur concern, however, is with the progress of m an in the B alkan
Peninsula rath er than with the evolution of W estern civilization. C onsidered
from this viewpoint, the significance of classical G reece can easily be ex
aggerated. W hereas the R om an E m pire was continental in character, the
G reek world was m aritim e and coastal. It was confined to the southern tip
of the Balkan Peninsula and to a thin coastal strip along the A egean, A d ri
atic, and Black seas. T he city-states rem ained city-states. They did not at
tem pt territorial expansion, and their influence did not penetrate deep into the
hinterland. We will, therefore, now consider the non-H ellenic peoples of the
interior who, sharing none of the stim ulating experiences of the G reeks on
the M editerranean shores, were separated from them by a wide gulf.

T w o non-H ellenic peoples lived in the Balkans at this tim e, the Il
lyrians and the T hracians. T he Illyrians, who occupied m ost of present-day
Y ugoslavia, were the least affected by G reek culture, partly because of the
uniniviting nature of the Illyrian coast with its lack of harbors, and partly
because of the strength and ferocity of the Illyrian tribes. W hereas the T h ra
cians tolerated G reek colonics and taxed them after their establishm ent, the



Illyrians excluded them from their shores altogether until a late period. Thus
the few G reek colonies were never able to extend their influence far into the
interior. They established m etallurgic, pottery, and glass works on the D alm a
tian coast, and traded these products, together with various m anufactured
goods from the hom eland, for the raw m aterials of the Illyrian tribes. D e
spite this com m erce Illyria rem ained a com paratively self-contained and con
servative region, with its tribes living in a state of interm ittent w arfare with
their neighbors and w ith one another.
T he T hracians occupied the territory bounded roughly by the M oravaV ard ar V alley in the east and the R hodope R ange in the south. Like the
Illyrians, their culture was quite different from th a t of the G reeks, and they
constituted a distinct race, although of the sam e Indo-E uropean stock. T he
G reeks were unable to understand their language and accordingly dubbed it
barbarian. The G reeks were im pressed by the light com plexion and red hair
of the T hracians. A typical observation was, T he E thiopians are black and
snub-nosed; the T hracians light-haired and grey-eyed. T he interior of
T hrace, like the interior of Illyria, held little attraction for the M editerranean
G reeks. Instead, as early as the late seventh century B.C., the lonians began
to fringe the Black Sea w ith their colonies. O ne of them , Byzantium , was
destined to be for centuries the capital of the Byzantine and O ttom an em pires.
T he G reeks also m ade their way up the D anube and founded colonies
along its banks. Only ten miles east of Belgrade, on the right bank of the
river, archaeologists have u nearthed rich classical findings the rem ains of
the G reek colony V incha. Thus, the G reeks influenced the peoples of the
B alkan hinterland by com m ercial operations from the D alm atian coast on the
east, the Black Sea coast on the west, and the D anube Valley in the north.
They also exerted influence directly from the south, through the m edium of
the sem i-H ellenized M acedonians.
T he M acedonians were located between the T hracians and the
G reeks, inhabiting the fertile plains drained by the V ard ar and Strum a rivers.
F rom antiquity to the present the question has been debated as to w hether
these early M acedonians were G reeks or barbarians. T he M acedonian rulers
claim ed to be the descendants of H eracles and therefore genuine G reeks, a
claim which the orators of the A thenian assembly scoffed at and rejected.
T he debate has continued to the present day, enlivened by the conflicting
claims of m odern Balkan states to the M acedonian lands. Recent philological
and archaeological research indicates th at the ancient M acedonians were in
fact G reeks, whose civilization had not kept up with th a t of the tribes which
had settled further to the south. T heir language closely resem bled the classical
G reek from which it differed no m ore than one English dialect from another.
V arious non-G reek peoples apparently had com e under the rule of the M ace
donian nobles and kings, but these latter definitely were G reeks in language
and outlook, and invited G reek m en of learning to their courts.
A t the beginning o f the fourth century B.C. the M acedonian state was
prim itive and loosely organized, still retaining the tribal m onarchy of H om eric

Historical Background


times and a peasant type of culture. All this was changed during the reigns
of Philip II (3 9 5 -3 3 6 B .C .) and of his son, A lexander the G reat (3 3 6 -3 2 3
B .C .). Philip overran the divided G reek city-states while A lexander w ent on
to conquer a fabulous em pire A sia M inor, Phoenecia, Syria, Egypt, M eso
potam ia, Persia, and the Punjab. H e was grappling with the problem of o r
ganizing an effective adm inistration for his enorm ous dom ains when he died
at B abylon in 323 at the age of thirty-three.
A lexanders untim ely death ended w hat small chance there was of
unifying this vast em pire. F o r a generation and a half his successors fought
for the spoils. T he G reco-M acedonian world disintegrated and presently re
turned very much to the political shape it had had before A lexander, though
under different rulers and a different civilization. By 275 b .c . three m on
archies were well established; the Seleucids ruled m uch of w hat had been the
Persian em pire in A sia; the Ptolem ies, Egypt, and the A ntigonids, M acedonia,
including G reece. T hese m onarchies ruled the N ear E ast during the so-called
Hellenistic period between the death of A lexander and the R om an conquest.
Continual wars during the third and second centuries so weakened the H el
lenistic m onarchs th at when the Rom an legions appeared in the eastern M ed
iterranean they had little difficulty in taking final possession of A lexanders
F o r the B alkan Peninsula the M acedonian or H ellenistic Age was
one of profound changes in all fields. Politically it was characterized by the
atrophy of the city-state and a trend tow ard larger political units. F or a brief
period Philip and A lexander united a considerable portion of the peninsula
under their rule. Philip not only subjugated the G reek city-states but also
defeated the Illyrian tribes and annexed p art of their country. Likewise, A lex
ander m arched northw ard to the B alkan M ountains and on to the D anube
in order to subjugate the unruly T hracian tribes.
T he H ellenistic period also witnessed the rem arkable diffusion of
G reek culture eastw ard with the conquests of A lexander and the creation of
G reek cities throughout the A siatic dom ains. In the Balkans, G reek culture
penetrated to a greater degree th an heretofore, though in this respect also the
peninsula was far from being united. T he T hracians were only slightly in
fluenced and the Illyrians alm ost not at all. T he M acedonians, however, be
cam e thoroughly H ellenized in the third century. They dropped their native
dialect for A ttic G reek and their native p antheon for the gods of Olympus.
Despite their m ixture of blood, the M acedonians were now one people and
their country was an integral p art of the G reek world.
In the econom ic field the G reek p art of the peninsula lost its prim acy
during these years. W ith the trem endous expansion eastw ard, the m ain com
m ercial centers shifted to the points where the land routes of the O rient m et
the sea routes of the M editerranean, as at A lexandria in Egypt, A ntioch in
Syria and E phesus in A sia M inor. M ost of the old G reek cities declined, al
though C orinth, with its favorable geographic position, continued to secure
its share of trade. F urtherm ore, thousands of G reeks em igrated to the eastern



areas th a t were now controlled by M acedonian rulers, and found there en

ticing opportunities as m erchants, soldiers, adm inistrators, and fiscal agents.
Indeed, the exodus to the newly opened lands was so great th at parts of
G reece and M acedonia were depopulated. T he general econom ic decline and
the social struggles of the hom eland were thereby sharpened, with the result
th a t by the tim e G reece fell to the R om ans its vital energies had been ex
hausted. A p art from the cultural prestige th a t still adhered to cities like
A thens, G reece declined to the status of a com paratively insignificant Rom an
T he R om ans conquered the B alkans during the third and second
centuries b . c . F irst they subjugated the A driatic C oast, then they defeated the
rulers of M acedon, and finally they destroyed the A chaean League of G reek
states. H aving overrun the peninsula th e R om ans proceeded to construct a
netw ork of paved highways sim ilar to those th at they built in G aul, Britain,
Spain, and other p arts of their em pire. T hese magnificent roads, raised con
siderably above the level of the ground, and with a deep ditch on each side,
w ere in them selves em inently defensible and enabled troops to be massed at
any threatened point with security and dispatch. In this m anner the R om ans
built the V ia E gnatia from the A driatic coast to Saloniki, providing direct
entry from Italy to the heart of the Balkans. O ther roads crisscrosscd the
peninsula in all directions, following natural routes used by prim itive men
in earliest times and by railw ay engineers today. A long these roads the R o
m ans erected forts and planted colonies which were merely fortified outposts
on a larger scale. A num ber of m odern B alkan cities trace their origins back
to these R om an colonies, including E dirne (A d rian o p le ), N ikopol (N icopolis ), Sofia (S ard ica), Nish (N aissu s), and Belgrade (Singidunum ).
In the realm of politics the R om ans consistenly applied the policy of
divide and rule. They partitioned natural regions and isolated individual sec
tions. T hey w eakened leagues and com binations which might have proved
dangerous to their authority. They ended the A chaean League, for exam ple,
though later they perm itted its revival for restricted purposes. Finally they
encouraged the p ropertied classes whose interests were bound up with R om an
suprem acy.
T he m aterial results of R om an rule varied greatly. G reece suffered a
steady econom ic decline due to the ravages of R om an civil wars fought on her
soil and to the diversion of trade following the establishm ent of direct com
m unications betw een Italy and the Levant. The m ost lucrative enterprise left
to the G reeks was pasturage in large dom ains, but this enriched alm ost ex
clusively the w ealthier citizens and w idened the breach betw een the classes.
C ertain new industries were developed to m eet the needs of R om an luxury.
G reek m arble, textiles, and table delicacies were in great dem and. Y et the
only cities that really flourished were the Italian com m unities planted at
C orinth and P atrae, and the old city of A thens.

Historical Background


C om m erce languished in general, and such w ealth as rem ained was

am assed in the hands of a few great landow ners and capitalists. T he middle
class declined and the great bulk of the people earned a precarious living
supplem ented by frequent doles and largesses. T hus G reece sank to the level
of an obscure and neglected province. In the following centuries G reek his
tory dw indled to a m ere record of b arb arian invasions, which, in addition to
occasional plagues and earthquakes, seem to have been the only events w orthy
of record by contem porary chroniclers.
T he Illyrian lands, in contrast, rose from their form er obscurity and
backw ardness and flourished under the rule of Rom e. A prosperous textile
industry was established, vine cultivation becam e w idespread, and mining
and lum bering proved profitable in Bosnia. T he com m ercial cities along the
coast grew w ealthy, and L atin civilization spread to the interior. Illyricum
becam e one of the best recruiting grounds for the R om an legions. In troubled
tim es, m ore than one Illyrian soldier fought his way up from the ranks to the
im perial purple. C laudius, A urelian, and D iocletian are the best know n of the
em perors who started out as sons of Illyrian peasants.
T he influence of Rom e upon the culture of the B alkans likewise
varied. In the G reek p art of the peninsula there was no question of R om anization; rather, as a L atin poet put it, C aptive G reece led captive her rude
conquero r. T he R om ans were scornful of G reek political aptitude but at the
sam e tim e were very conscious of the greatness of G reek civilization. W ithin
a com paratively short tim e their upp er classes, at least, acquired a veneer of
Greek culture. M ore G reek was learned in Rom e th an Latin in G reece. C ul
turally speaking, G reece rem ained G reek. It is true th at in time the G reeks
becam e so accustom ed to their subject political status th at they called them
selves R om aioi o r R om ans, and continued to do so in m odern times; yet
in language and culture they rem ained G reeks.
R om e m ade a greater im pression on the backw ard peoples of the B al
kan hinterland, though even here there was no outright R om anization. W here
the R om an w ent he took with him L atin as the language of governm ent, but
he also took with him G reek as the language of culture. It was a G recoR om an culture th at was diffused through the Balkans in the Rom an period,
with G reek influence predom inant in the northeast and Latin influence in the
northw est. T he Illyrian lands were the m ost thoroughly L atinized, though the
native dialect persisted in the inaccessible valleys of the southwest. It also
survived the later Slavic invasions and is spoken today by the people of
A lbania, though w ith a heavy overlay of L atin, G reek, Slavic, and T urkish
words. T he T hracians, in contrast, failed to preserve their cultural identity,
their V lach descendants today speaking a L atin language akin to the m odern
R um anian north of the D anube.
T he R om ans drew their n o rth ern frontier in the B alkans along the
D anube, with the exception of a brief period w hen they extended their rule
across the river to include the kingdom of D acia. T he inhabitants of D acia
were a T hracian people who had attained a m odest degree of civilization



before th e R om an conquest. They engaged m ostly in agriculture and cattle

breeding, b u t also w orked gold and silver m ines in T ransylvania and carried
on a considerable foreign trade.
T he D acians incurred the w rath of the R om ans with their continual
raids into M oesia, the province im m ediately to the south of the D anube. E m
pero r T rajan conducted a num ber of victorious cam paigns against the D aci
ans, pursuing them far into the C arp ath ian M ountains, and ended by incor
porating their kingdom into the em pire ( a .d . 1 0 7 ). In the following years the
R om ans built highways and forts in the new province of D acia, and im ported
colonists to cultivate the land and w ork the mines. F o r over a century and
a half, from a . d . 107 to 275, D acia rem ained a province of the em pire and
becam e so thoroughly R om anized th at today the descendants of the R om an
colonists and native D acians call them selves R um anians and speak a R o
m ance language.
N evertheless, the R om an hold over D acia was never very firm. The
province across the D anube proved a vulnerable outpost, and the successors
of T rajan looked upon it as a strategic liability. E m peror H adrian ( a . d . 117
138) seriously considered its abandonm ent and was deterred only because
of the plight of the num erous R om an settlers. A century later the G oths
crossed the C arpathians and drove the R om ans out of m ost of D acia, leaving
them only a few fortified positions. Finally E m peror A urelian ( a . d . 2 7 5 )
w ithdrew his troops altogether from the exposed province and evacuated
m any of the R om an settlers to M oesia. Thus Dacia, the last won, was also
the first lost of the R om an provinces in the Balkans.

T he retreat from D acia was b u t one of the m any m anifestations of
the w idespread disintegration within the R o m an w orld in the third century.
T he disintegration was m ore m arked in the w estern provinces than in the
eastern. T he E ast, w ith its m ultitude of well-established cities and their nu
m erous artisans and m erchants, was b etter able to w ithstand the dry ro t that
was underm ining the im perial edifice. T he difference was recognized by E m
p ero r C onstantine w hen he m oved (3 2 6 ) his seat of governm ent to the old
G reek colony B yzantium , on the E uro p ean side of the Straits. T o em phasize
the significance of the shift, he renam ed the city N ew R om e, but from the
outset it was popularly called the city of C onstantine, or C onstantinople.
T he tran sfer of the capital to C onstantinople increased the im por
tance of the B alkan Peninsula. It now took the place of Italy as the leading
province of the em pire, in the deluge of b arb arian invasions th a t swept over
the em pire in the fifth century, the frontier of the B alkans held m ore firmly
th an those of the w estern provinces. Some of the tribes did succeed in b reak
ing through the D anube defenses. T h e W est G oths under A laric conducted
destructive raids from which hardly a section of the peninsula was spared, but
about a . d . 4 00 they m oved w estw ard and descended upon Italy. T en years

Historical Background


later occurred the m em orable sack of R om e at the hands of Alaric. In sub

sequent decades oth er G erm an tribes F ranks, V andals, E ast G oths, Angles,
and Saxons overw helm ed all the w estern provinces. Finally ( a . d . 4 7 6 ) the
b arb arian chief O doacer forced the boy-ruler, R om ulus A ugustulus, to retire,
ending the shadow y rem ains of im perial rule in the West.
T he deposition of Rom ulus A ugustulus did not m ark the end of the
R om an E m pire. It was, rather, the beginning of the end. F o r one m ore cen
tury the trad itio n of im perial unity persisted, inspiring the E astern em perors
to gallant but foredoom ed efforts to restore a p ast th at was beyond restora
tion. This was the case especially with Justinian ( 5 2 7 -5 6 5 ), who won A frica
from the V andals, Italy from the O strogoths, and a p art of Spain from the
Visigoths. B ut in the century following his death the w estern provinces were
irrevocably lost, the Slavs poured across the D anube to begin their process of
crystallization into individual Balkan nations, and the A rab tribesm en, fired
by the faith of M oham m ed, burst across n orthern A frica and up the L evant to
the borders of A sia M inor. T he flimsy foundations of Ju stin ian s im perial
structure were dem olished. A ccordingly we m ay consider the first half of the
seventh century as th e period in which the E astern R om an E m pire becam e
distinctively Byzantine.
T he all-im portant developm ent in the B alkan Peninsula during this
transition period was the influx of the Slavic peoples. They began to move
southw ard from C entral E urope into the D anube Valley in significant num
bers in the fourth century after C hrist. T he process was a gradual drift and
infiltration rath er th a n a sudden invasion. By the sixth century the Slavs
firmly occupied the D anube Basin and began to cross into the Balkans. A t
the sam e tim e oth er peoples were appearing interm ittently upon the scene,
including the M ongolian H uns and A vars, w ho swept into the Balkans from
the steppes of A sia. B ut they were m arauders rath er th an settlers, and did
n o t pause long enough to obtain a p erm anent foothold. T he agriculturally
m inded Slavs, in contrast, sank roots into the B alkan soil and took possession
of lands which rem ain theirs to the present.
By the early seventh century, when E m p eror H eraclius finally was
able to dispose of the P ersian danger and tu rn to the B alkans, he found the
Slavs occupying and cultivating wide areas laid waste by w ar. M aking a virtue
of necessity, he assigned to them definite districts, in return for which they
acknow ledged his suzerainty and agreed to pay annual tribute. This arrange
m ent did not bring com plete o rd er and peace to the B alkans. Some tribes
occasionally refused to pay tribute, others spread beyond their stipulated te r
ritory, and still others were forced to m ove once m ore by fresh m igrations
from across the D anube. Y et the seventh century is significant as the period
when the Slavic new com ers changed gradually from invaders into settlers. By
the end of the century they were in possession of the A driatic C oast and its



hinterland, an d large areas of the central B alkans betw een the A egean and
the D anube.
These Slav m igrations reduced the num ber of the older B alkan races
and crow ded them into sm aller areas. Part of the Illyrians were assim ilated
and p art w ere forced southw ard into present-day A lbania. T he G reeks held
their own in the southern p a rt of the peninsula and rapidly assim ilated the
Slavic tribes th at h ad settled in their m idst. T he Latinized T hracians and
D acians of the central B alkans and trans-D anubian lands were dispersed by
the Slavs and forced to find refuge in isolated m ountain areas. F o r centuries
no m ention of them occurs in the m eager contem porary records. T hen grad
ually they reappeared as the scattered nom adic V lachs south of the D anube
and the m uch more num erous R um anians north of the D anube. In this m an
n er the B alkan Peninsula developed in the early medieval period its present
ethnic pattern.
W ith the passing of a few centuries, the B alkan Slavs, widely scat
tered and loosely organized as they were, developed along different lines and
crystallized into four m ajor groups: the Slovenes at the head of the A driatic,
the C roatians betw een the D rava River and the A driatic, the Serbs in the
central Balkans between the A driatic and the D anube, and the Slavs in the
rem aining territory to the Black Sea, who shortly were to adopt the nam e
of their Bulgarian conquerors. T he latter two groups organized great though
short-lived medieval kingdom s which borrow ed their culture from Byzantium.
In contrast, the Slovenes and C roatians, because of their position in the
w estern p art of the peninsula, becam e subjects of the Holy Rom an E m pire
and were inlluenced by Rom e rather th an C onstantinople in their cultural de
velopm ent.
T hese Slavic new com ers organized a num ber of powerful em pires in
the B alkans during the medieval period. T he first of these was the creation of
the B ulgarians, a people who were not Slavs, b u t rath er F inno-T atars related
to the Huns. Like their A siatic predecessors in the Balkans, they had no
taste for agricultural pursuits. T hey preferred to leave these to their Slavic
subjects, whom they were able to subdue by virtue of their superior organiza
tion und er m ilitary leaders or khans. T he Bulgarians, it should be noted,
never equaled the Slavs in num bers. W ithin a com paratively short tim e the
B ulgarian m inority was assim ilated and becam e Slavic in everything but
nam e. T oday the Bulgarians are considered a Slavic people, and are in fact
Slavic in appearance, in language, and in customs.
T he B ulgarians first crossed the D anube into the D obruja in the sec
ond half of the seventh century. L ater, u nder the leadership of their great
K han K rum ( 8 0 8 - 8 1 4 ) , they were able to advance southw ard, destroy a
num ber of Byzantine arm ies, and, on one occasion, even besiege C onstanti
nople itself. A no th er great B ulgarian leader, K han Boris, accepted C hristian
ity from C onstantinople rath er than from R om e in return for Byzantine rec-




ognition of the B ulgarian conquests. Boris obtained a national church with

its own bishops and archbishops, the only lim itation being th at an honorary
recognition was to be accorded to the patriarch as the suprem e head of the
O rthodox Church.
H aving rem oved the th reat of Byzantine dom ination, Boris felt free to
encourage the w ork of the G reek m issionaries. In the following years they
provided the Bulgarians with an alphabet, translated the Scriptures into their
language, and p repared a Slavonic liturgy. H enceforth Slavonic rather than
G reek was the official language of the B ulgarian church. Thus were laid the
cultural foundations of the O rthodox Slavs of the Balkans.
A bout the sam e tim e the Serbian tribes were also converted to O rth o
doxy. F u rth er to the west the L atin church prevailed in C roatia and Slovenia.
F o r a period Byzantine m issionaries held their ground in C roatia, but the com
bined influence of the F ranks and the old Rom an cities of D alm atia finally
prevailed. Byzantine influence petered out in the w estern Balkans, and the
C roatians and the Slovenes in the future followed in the wake of their C ath
olic neighbors, Italy, H ungary, and G erm any.
T he m edieval Bulgarian state reached its high point during the reign
of B oriss second son, Sim eon ( 8 9 3 - 9 2 7 ) . His years of education in C on
stantinople im bued him with a deep respect for G reek culture and he encour
aged its diffusion am ong his backw ard subjects. G reek books were translated
into Slavonic, the arts were patronized, and palaces and churches were built.
A t Preslav, Sim eon sat on his throne, girt with purple, arrayed in pearlem broidered robes and surrounded by a dazzling suite of nobles. This munifi
cence and culture exerted influence far beyond the borders of Bulgaria, in
deed, Preslav served as a funnel through which Byzantine culture poured into
Serbia, R um ania, and Russia, dom inating the civilizations of these countries
for centuries.
Sim eons accom plishm ents on the battlefield were equally impressive,
though in the long run disastrous. He had it in his pow er to unite the South
Slavs under his rule and to form a great B alkan Slavic em pire. Instead he fell
victim to the dream of C onstantinople. H e assum ed the proud title T sar of
the Bulgars and A utocrat of the R om ans [G reeks], and squandered his sol
diery to m ake this dream a reality. H e conquered N ish and Belgrade, and
overran M acedonia, A lbania, and T hrace, but the walls of C onstantinople
and the wiles of Byzantine diplom acy cheated him of his prize. W hen he died
he was m aster of the n orthern Balkans, including the Serbian lands, b u t his
country was exhausted and his em pire was soon to crum ble. Before the end
of the century it was overrun by M agyars, Pechenegs, R ussians, and finally
the B yzantines, who m ade Bulgaria their province. It was on this occasion
th a t a redoubtable Byzantine em peror, know n to history as Basil the BulgarSlayer, annihilated a B ulgarian arm y and blinded fourteen thousand captives.
Byzantium was now dom inant over the O rthodox Slavs of the Bal
kans. B ut h er dom ination h ad com e too late. T he Slavs of Bulgaria and Serbia
no longer were barbarians susceptible to assim ilation or expulsion. They now

Historical Background


were peasants, tilling the soil, professing Christianity, and cherishing m em o

ries of which the nam es of Boris and Sim eon were the flaming symbols. They
would therefore subm it to G reek dom ination only so long as C onstantinople
rem ained the inviolable capital with pow er adequate to control the peninsula.
By the late twelfth century this was no longer the case. T he attacks of the
Seljuk T urks, the com m ercial com petition of the Italians, the disturbances of
the C rusaders, and, to crow n it all, the ineptitude of the A ngelus dynasty,
com bined to bring B yzantium to' an obvious state of decay. In these circum
stances the Serbians were able to found an im posing B alkan em pire and the
Bulgarians to revive their past glory.
T he Serbians were the Slavic people who, in the period of the m igra
tions, settled in the central Balkans. In the early ninth century they form ed an
incipient state that soon passed under the control of the Bulgarians. A bout
the sam e tim e the Serbians adopted the Byzantine form of Christianity. This
helped to develop a sense of kinship am ong the scattered tribes and, by the
eleventh century, they were consolidated into two rudim entary states, Zeta
along the A driatic and R ashka in the interior. It was the latter state th a t was
the nucleus of future Serbian greatness.
In the second half of the twelfth century Stephen N em anja, head or
the G reat Z hupan of R ashka, united the Serbian people for the first time. In
a series of successful wars with B yzantium and Bulgaria he conquered the
whole of Zeta and extended the frontier of R ashka to the M orava Valley,
thus establishing the territorial basis of the future Serbian kingdom . His son
and successor, Stephen N em anja II (1 1 9 6 -1 2 2 8 ), was a prudent diplom at
and w arrior who realized the dream of Serbian independence w ithout striking
a blow. H itherto the Serbian rulers had been at least nom inally the vassals
of the em peror and bore the title of G reat Zhupans rath er than kings. This
relationship ended with the fall of C onstantinople to the C rusaders in 1204.
Stephen prom ptly exploited the opportunity and played off the pope against
the patriarch. F ro m the one he obtained the title of king and from the other
a Serbian archbishopric th at m ade the Serbian church autonom ous. T he head
of the new church was the kings bro th er, a legendary figure who was to be
revered by future generations as the holy and m iracle-working St. Sava. W ith
a free state and church the Serbian people were now well launched on the
road to nationhood.
In the m eantim e the Bulgarians also had profited from the decline of
Byzantium to regain their independence. Several brief uprisings had failed in
the eleventh century, b u t in 1185 the brothers P eter and John A sen success
fully raised the flag of revolt. T he occasion was the im position of a new and
burdensom e tax, designed, it was rum ored, to provide for the wedding fes
tivities of the em peror himself. W ith the help of the C um ans beyond the
D anube and of the V lachs, who were now reappearing after four centuries of
refuge in their m ountain fastnesses, the A sen brothers repulsed the feeble
efforts of the em peror to reassert his authority. T heir successor, K aloyan
( 1 1 9 7 -1 2 0 7 ), m ade B ulgaria a form idable rival of Byzantium . In fact, the



blows he dealt the tottering em pire helped to m ake it fall a ready prey to the
C rusaders.
F o r a period in the thirteenth century, during the reign of K aloyans
successor, Jo hn A sen II (1 2 1 8 -1 2 4 1 ), Bulgaria was the leading pow er in
the Balkans. L ike the rulers of the first Bulgarian state, John A sen II cher
ished hopes of im perial grandeur. H e assum ed the coveted title T sar and
A uto crat of all Bulgarians and G reeks, and extended his dom ain to include
n orth ern A lbania, M acedonia, and W estern Thrace. But he was no m ore suc
cessful th an his predecessors in capturing the im perial city, and his kingdom
disintegrated soon after his death. His weak and inexperienced successors
were unable to m aintain his conquests, and the declining kingdom reached
its nad ir with its defeat by the Serbs in 1330. Thus Bulgaria becam e vassal
to Serbia, which now em erged, for a brief period before the Turkish tidal
wave, as the m ajor pow er of the Balkans.
A year after the defeat of the Bulgars, Stephen D ushan the Mighty,
the greatest of the Serbian m edieval rulers, ascended the throne. As a m ili
tary strategist and lawgiver, Stephen D ushan has been com pared to N apoleon.
H e is rem em bered not only for his conquests but also for his fam ous code
issued in 1349. This is of interest for us because of the picture it gives of
the medieval Serbian civilization.
T he reign of D ushan also witnessed a m odest developm ent of Serbian
culture. C hurch architecture flourished. A t first crudely Byzantine, it was
gradually modified by W estern influences, and by D ushans time had devel
oped its own characteristics. M onasteries becam e centers of learning. Serbian
literature, inspired by G reek models, m ade its appearance and reflected a
feeling of national unity. This was particularly true of the great popular epics
th a t were now beginning to be sung and th at were exclusively and peculiarly
Serbian, owing nothing to Byzantium.
N either the political nor the cultural institutions of m edieval Serbia
h ad an opportunity to develop to the full. T he foreign enemies were too m any
and D ushans am bition was too great. Like so m any South Slavic rulers, he
envisioned him self on the im perial throne in C onstantinople, and his vision
proved his peoples undoing. His conquests were quite impressive. H e strength
ened his hold on Bulgaria, overran A lbania, M acedonia, Thessaly, and Epirus,
and proclaim ed him self T sar of the Serbs and A utocrat of the G reeks. T o
ensure his success against C onstantinople he sought the aid of the T urks, the
Italians, and the pope. In 1355 he m arched on C onstantinople with every
hope of success, but on the m arch he died.
W ith him died his em pire, leaving behind only a m em ory that was to
inspire Serbian patriotism for centuries. His em pire broke into fragm ents
because it was too diverse. T here w ere Bulgarians, Italo-D alm atians, Vlachs,
A lbanians, and G reeks as well as Serbs. Some were O rthodox Christians,
others C atholic, and not a few were Bogom il heretics. D ushans em pire lacked
both the tim e and th e cultural tradition needed to fuse, or at least to weld
together, these disparate elem ents.

Historical Background


The collapse of the Serbian em pire created a political vacuum in the

Balkans, a vacuum th at was filled not by a resurgent B yzantium as had h ap
pened so often in the past, but rath er by the all-conquering T urks, who over
ran the whole peninsula even the hitherto invincible C onstantinople and
held it in their grip for alm ost half a millenium . Before turning our attention
to the new m asters of the Balkans we will pause briefly to view Byzantium
in its decline, for this decline and the inability to stage one m ore recovery,
rather than their strength at arm s, explain the dazzling successes of the T urks.

In 1019 Basil the B ulgar-Slayer had captured the last Bulgarian for
tress and stood victorious on the D anube. This m arked a high point in the
fortunes of Byzantium . But within fifty years after the death of Basil, the
N orm ans had overrun the im perial possessions in Italy and the Seljuk T urks
had perm anently occupied Asia M inor. T he latter loss was the more serious,
perm anently im pairing B yzantium s strength. A natolia in the past had been
the great reservoir of m anpow er for the im perial arm ies. It had provided
Basil the troops with which he had destroyed the B ulgarian em pire. Now,
with the T urks ruling the area from the Sea of M arm ora to the Euphrates,
A sia M inor had becom e instead a dagger pointed at the heart of the em pire.
B yzantium was underm ined also by a steady econom ic decline. T he
loss of the rich A siatic provinces had deprived the em pire of a principal
source of tax revenue. Equally serious was the tightening strangle hold of the
Italian m erchant adventurers upon the com m erce of the em pire. T he refusal
of Byzantine capitalists to invest in risky m aritim e ventures left the Italians
in alm ost com plete control of overseas trade. This foothold in B yzantium s
econom y was extended to ultim ately fatal proportions when the N orm ans
attacked D urazzo, the Byzantine fortress on the A driatic. T he attack was re
pulsed, but only with the help of the V enetian fleet. A nd the price of this
help was a treaty (1 0 8 2 ) granting V enetian m erchants a q u arter in C on
stantinople and com plete freedom from tolls or duties throughout the em pire.
L a ter em perors tried to w ithdraw or reduce these privileges b u t the B yzan
tine navy was no m atch for th at of V enice and the grip was m aintained. Thus
B yzantium was deprived of the duties which contributed so greatly to her
revenues, and a h atred was engendered betw een G reeks and Latins which
contributed in no small m easure to the final catastrophe.
Such was the situation in the em pire when it was faced by the on
slaught of the F o u rth C rusade. A lthough organized originally to attack the
infidel in Egypt, the C rusade was directed instead against C onstantinople on
the insistence of the V enetians and the blandishm ents of the Byzantine pre
tender. T he latter was placed upon the throne with little difficulty, only to be
unseated a few m onths later by a popu lar anti-L atin uprising. T here followed
the second siege of C onstantinople, the capture of the capital on A pril 13,
1204, and the three days looting of this w ealthiest of C hristian cities.



T he victorious L atins now set up their feudal states on the im perial

ruins. They established a Latin em pire at C onstantinople, a L atin kingdom at
Saloniki, and several L atin states in G reece, of which the m ost im portant
were the duchy of A thens and the principality of M orea in the Peloponnesus.
T he com m ercially m inded V enetians rounded out their em pire by occupying
a whole quarter of C onstantinople and annexing num erous islands and ports
strategically located on their route to the Levant.
This L atin occupation represents a brief and com paratively unim por
tan t interlude in the history of the peninsula. T he new states were doom ed
from the outset. They received little support from the fanatically O rthodox
population, particularly in C onstantinople. F urtherm ore, they controlled only
the fringes of the peninsula and were surrounded on all sides by enemies.
T hey faced not only the still form idable B ulgarian and Serbian kingdom s in
the north ern Balkans, b u t also several G reek succession states. Of these the
m ost im portant were the em pire at T rebizond on the southern shore of the
B lack Sea, the despotat of E pirus on the A driatic, and the em pire across the
Straits at N icaea w here a m em ber of the deposed dynasty, Theodore Lascaris,
h ad him self crow ned by the P atriarch as E m peror of the G reeks. U nder
these circum stances the only question was to which one of these states the
L atins ultim ately w ould succumb.
T he answer was given when the able em perors of N icaea conquered
m uch of A sia M inor and E astern T hrace, and becam e by far the m ost pow
erful of the G reek rulers. By skillful diplom acy and force of arm s they re
duced the L atin em pire until only the capital rem ained. Finally in 1261 the

Historical Background


L atin em peror, together w ith the L atin P atriarch and the V enetian settlers,
fled from C onstantinople w ithout resistance. T he N icaean em peror, M ichael
Palaeologus, m ade a solem n form al entry into the city, and, am idst popular
acclam ation, took up his residence in the im perial palace.
T he outlook for the restored Byzantine E m pire was scarcely m ore
prom ising than th at of its L atin predecessor, despite the ability and diplom atic
trium phs of M ichael. In A sia it faced the form idable T urks, and in E urope
it was surrounded by L atins in G reece, the despotat of E pirus in the W est,
and the Serbians and Bulgarians in the north. Thus M ichael was left with the
pitiful rem nant of an em pire. Confined to a few islands in the A egean, to the
northw estern corner of A sia M inor, and to the insignificant portion of the
Balkans between Saloniki and C onstantinople, his realm rem inds one of postVersailles A ustria. Both states were like shrunken bodies with enorm ous
heads C onstantinople in the one case and V ienna in the other.
T o these external dangers were added internal difficulties. Econom i
cally the em pire was bankrupt. T he Italians continued to drain its lifeblood.
In the m id-fourteenth century the G enoese quarter in C onstantinople was col
lecting 200,000 solidi annually in custom s revenues while the im perial gov
ernm ent collected only 30,000. T he em perors were reduced to debasing their
currency and paw ning their crown jewels with V enetian bankers. W hen they
increased taxes to m eet state expenses, the rich frequently escaped by judi
cious bribing, while the poor, already .in desperate straits, rose in revolt
against the aristocracy of birth and of wealth. The large cities were torn by
bloody social strife. In fact, for seven years (1 3 4 2 -1 3 4 9 ) Saloniki was vir
tually an independent republic ruled by revolutionary leaders know n as the
Zealots. Particularly deplorable was the rapid growth of large estates which
absorbed the holdings of the soldiery-peasantry.
A nother basic factor in Byzantine decline was the religious issue.
H oping to obtain W estern aid against the ever-increasing Turkish menace,
the em perors decided on an agreem ent with the Papacy. In 1439 E m peror
John V III attended the church council of Florence, where he solemnly ac
cepted the suprem acy of the pope and the union of the two churches. The
concession was in vain. T he W est gave insignificant aid while the term s of the
agreem ent caused b itter controversy in C onstantinople. T he Byzantine clergy
and the devout m asses fiercely rejected any com prom ise with the hated Latins
as a betrayal of O rthodoxy. E ven on the eve of the T urkish conquest, for
m any the pope rath er th an the T u rk was the real enem y. T he first m inister
of the em pire was only expressing pop u lar sentim ent when he declared th at
he w ould rath er behold in C onstantinople the tu rb an of M oham m ed th an the
tiara of the pope o r the h a t of a cardinal.
Thus w ith dim inished territory, laboring under financial exhaustion
and m ilitary w eakness, ren t by social and religious strife, and battered by
Serbs, Bulgars, L atins, and T urks, the Byzantine em pire sank slowly into
hopeless im potence before the oncom ing Turks.



O n com ing to the end of the Byzantine era we may look back and
consider its significance for B alkan history. This may be illustrated by com
paring the peninsula over which Justinian ruled in the sixth century with that
which the T urks conquered in the fifteenth. W hen this is done the change that
stands out m ost obviously is in the ethnic com position of the Balkans. In
Ju stin ian s day the G reeks, Illyrians, and T hraco-D acians of antiquity still
held their ground in the peninsula. By the fifteenth century the Slavs were in
firm possession of a b ro ad belt from the A driatic to the Black seas. T he dis
possessed Illyrians were concentrated in present-day A lbania and the scat
tered T hraco-D acians were reappearing as the nom adic Vlachs of the central
highlands and as the R um anians of the newly em erging trans-D anubian states,
M oldavia and W allachia. This ethnic distribution th at took place in the By
zantine period has persisted with slight changes to the present.
T he m odern culture of the Balkans also had evolved by the fifteenth
century through a process of B yzantinization and C hristianization. F o r the
South Slavs, and the A lbanians and R um anians for th at m atter, Byzantium
was w hat R om e had been for the G erm ans the great educator, the great
initiator, the source both of religion and of civilization. H er missionaries
spread the gospel am ong the barbarians, and with it they brought Byzantine
legal ideas, literature, art, trade, and everything else th at constitutes a dis
tinctive civilization. D uring the future centuries of Turkish rule B alkan
C hristianity contributed to the preservation of Balkan nationality. F o r the
church becam e the center of national life and the ecclesiastical organization
was entrusted by the T urkish overlord with some of the functions of civil
governm ent.
Finally, the Byzantine period witnessed the developm ent of the im
perial idea in the B alkans, in contrast to the city-state particularism of an
tiquity. W hereas in the W est feudal decentralization, loosely organized m on
archies, and im perial illusions prevailed, in the E ast there cam e an extrem e
developm ent of absolute m onarchy and of highly centralized imperial bu
reaucracy. All authority was in and from the em peror. T he patriarch, in con
trast to the pope, lived in the shadow of the im perial palace. Thus the m e
dieval political institutions of the W est laid the basis for the national state
system, while those of the E ast preserved the im perial tradition of R om e and
of the O rient, and passed them on to the new T urkish m aster of the B alkans.

To 1560
I'arl, II. I p ill (Ifliiiiiiin Ascendancy

C o m in g

o f th e

O tto m a n

T u rks:


1 4 0 2

J . h e e f f e c t o f t h e t u r k s on the developm ent of the

B alkans and of the N ear E ast m ay be com pared, generally speaking, w ith th at
of the G erm ans on the developm ent of W estern E urope. In the fourth and
fifth centuries a . d . successive waves of G erm an barbarians gradually over
whelm ed the W estern R om an Em pire and prepared the ground for th at fusion
of G erm anic, R om an, and C hristian elem ents known as W estern civilization.
Likewise from the eighth century onw ard; T urkish tribesm en stream ed out of
their ccntral Asian hom eland into the N ear E ast, overw helm ed the Islamic
and Byzantine em pires, and eventually founded the O ttom an E m pire, with
its blending of several N ear E astern cultures upon an Islam ic base: In this
chapter we shall analyze the factors explaining the success of the T urks, and
trace their career of conquests until the beginning of the fifteenth century,
when they had gained a firm grip on the B alkan Peninsula.

M uch less is known of the origins of the O ttom an E m pire than of the
M erovingian and C arolingian kingdom s in the W est. T he early T urks were
too busy with the sw ord to have tim e for the pen. N ot until the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, when their em pire had been fought for and won, did
T urkish chroniclers concern them selves with their early history. By th at time
fable had taken the place of fact. O f necessity the chroniclers accepted and
recorded a m ythology of their origins analogous to the Rom ulus m yth of the
R om ans and the sun-goddess m yth of the Japanese. Only in the past few
decades have serious attem pts been m ade to lift the colorful veil of legend,
but in the absence of reliable records m uch still rem ains obscure.
W e h ear of the T urks first from Chinese sources. T hey were then the
inhabitants, strong and predatory, of the A ltai plains in Siberia and M ongolia.
By the sixth century a . d . they had established a vast khanate stretching across


A g e o f O ttom an A scendancy to 1566

the continent of A sia as far west as the Sea of Azov. L ike m ost nom adic
em pires this khanate collapsed alm ost as soon as it was created, and the
various T urkish tribes divided into a w estern and an eastern branch. The
w estern group, located in T urkestan, was subdued in the eighth century by
the M oslem A rabs advancing from the south, and in the following two cen
turies the T urks adopted the Islam ic faith of their conquerors.
T he condition of the Islam ic w orld at this point was sim ilar to th at
of the R om an w orld w hen the G erm an tribes were pressing on its borders.
T he great em pire conquered by the crusading A rab disciples of M oham m ed
in the century following his death (6 3 2 ) had becom e a hollow shell. Spain
and N orth A frica had seceded from the em pire and virulent sectarianism had
disrupted the m onolithic faith of the Prophet. Faced with this crisis the
caliphs of B aghdad turned to the M oslem T urks for support, just as the
R om an em perors u nder sim ilar circum stances had turned to the G erm ans.
As early as the eighth century the T urks had begun to infiltrate the
Islam ic E m pire. Em ployed first as m ercenaries, they soon becam e the pre
d om inant elem ent in the arm ies of the caliph. In the tenth century, Mongol
pressure in the rear forced m ore T urkish tribes to m ove into the em pire. It
was these new com ers who captured B aghdad in 1055, thereby founding the
brilliant though short-lived Seljuk Em pire.
T hese Seljuk T urks reanim ated the m oribund Islam ic world. They
united once more the vast territory from the shores of the M editerranean to
the borders of India. T hey successfully repulsed the attacks of the C rusaders
in the H oly Land. A bove all, they broke the traditional frontier of Asia
M inor along the T aurus M ountains the frontier that had sheltered Rom e
and B yzantium for fourteen hundred years. T hey accom plished this w hen
they defeated the Byzantine arm y in the fateful battle of M anzikert in 1071.
This victory proved a turning point in the history of Asia M inor. Large
num bers of T urkish settlers m igrated northw ard in the wake of their victori
ous soldiers, and the native A natolian population gradually lost its thin
veneer of G reek culture. Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries the
larger p art of A natolia was transform ed from a G reek and C hristian to a
T urkish and M oslem region, and it rem ains so to the present day. It should
be noted th at this Turkification of A sia M inor m eant th at the T urks who
later conquered the Balkan Peninsula were far from purely Turkish in ethnic
com position. M any were of G reek origin and probably som e were A rm enians.
In the m eantim e the Seljuk E m pire had disintegrated into a patch
w ork of independent principalities or sultanates, one of these com prising the
newly conquered Asia M inor area. This was know n as the sultanate of Rum ,
by virtue of its form er R om an ow nership, and also as the sultanate of K onya,
after the nam e of its capital Iconium (G reek ) or K onya (T u rk ish ). T hanks
to the capture of C onstantinople by the L atins in 1204, the Seljuk sultans of
K onya were able to add to their dom ains the ports of A dalia on the M edi
terran ean and Sinope on the B lack Sea. This opened their kingdom to a
profitable trade with the Italian city-republics. T he resulting riches made

C om ing o f the O ttom an Turks: to 1402


possible the developm ent of a brilliant court at K onya, the extraordinarily

high culture of which has been revealed by recent excavations.
N o sooner did the sultanate of Rum reach its peak than it declined
precipitously. T he m ain reason seems to have been the practice of granting
hereditary fiefs in return for m ilitary services. This led to the developm ent of
independent or sem i-independent states, especially w hen the central govern
m ent was weak. This occurred all too frequently, for the T urks had no trad i
tion of strong autocratic governm ent com parable to th at of the Byzantines.
T he disintegration of the R um sultanate was com pleted when the great
M ongol conqueror, G enghis K han, burst into A sia M inor, routed the Seljuk
forces in 1243, and tem porarily occupied the capital. T he great khan did
not stop to establish his personal rule. He contented himself with levying
tribute and he allowed the Seljuk sultans to rem ain tributary rulers. B ut
the sultans henceforth lacked even the feeble authority they form erly had
The disorder was heightened by new bands of T urkish im m igrants
forced w estw ard by the M ongol invaders. T hus Asia M inor in the late thir
teenth and early fourteenth centuries sank into a state of near anarchy, with
most of the country controlled by virtually independent local chieftains or
em irs. One of these was a certain O sm an, m em orable in history as the
founder of the O sm anli or O ttom an E m pire, destined to carry the banner of
Islam to the walls of V ienna and to dom inate the entire N ear E ast to the
tw entieth century.

O S M A N : F O U N D E R O F T H E O T T O M A N E M P IR E
Legend has it th at O sm ans father, E rtoghrul, led a small com pany
of four hundred and forty-four horsem en with their families across the m oun
tains of A rm enia to the A natolian plateau. T here he cam e unexpectedly upon
a battle in which one side was sorely pressed. He rallied his followers to the
aid of the losers and won the battle with an im petuous charge. T he w arrior
th a t he had saved from defeat proved to be none other than the Seljuk sultan
himself, who gratefully rew arded E rtoghrul with a grant of land along the
Byzantine frontier. T he story savors of m yth but it is not w ithout interest in
th a t it dem onstrates how the nom adic T urkish tribes were establishing them
selves at this tim e throughout A sia M inor. W e can well believe th at the Seljuk
sultan w elcom ed E rto g h ru l and the oth er T urkish chieftains as allies to resist
the pressure of the Byzantines in the west and the M ongols in the east.
E rto g h ru ls fief was located on the extrem e northw estern fringe of the
Seljuk territory, less th a n fifty miles from the Sea of M arm ora and not a
hundred miles from C onstantinople itself. H ere E rtoghrul was to be a
W arden of the M arches, to hold his territory for the sultan and to extend it
for himself if he could. H ardly had he settled dow n w hen the sultans au
thority dwindled to the point where the new com ers were virtually on their
own. E rto g h ru is son, O sm an, is reputed to have declared his independence


A g e o f O ttom an A scendancy to 1566

in 1299, b u t this could have been nothing m ore than form al affirmation of
p aten t fact. In the sam e year O sm an took up his residence at Y enishehir, or
New City, located halfway betw een the prosperous Byzantine cities of B rusa
and Nicaea. F rom this strategic base O sm an set out upon his career of con
quest. Before following his path we need to consider how a sm all group of
com paratively prim itive T urkish tribesm en were able n o t only to capture
large w alled cities but also to consolidate their dom ains and organize them
into a base for still further expansion.

T he source of O ttom an pow er still rem ains obscure in many respects.
But one cardinal point stands out clearly. T he popular conception of O tto
m an pow er originating in an overw helm ing invasion of A sia M inor by hordes
of central A siatic T urks who swept on into the Balkans as single-m inded
apostles of Islam all this m ay be discarded with assurance. The story of
E rtoghrul leading his four hundred and forty-four horsem en obviously is
related m ore to the sacred num ber four than to actual fact. B ut it does ex
press the popular belief that his orginal followers were a mere handful. This
is quite significant. G reat A siatic conquerors like A ttila and Genghis K han
won their vast em pires at the head of large nom adic arm ies, but O sm an and
his successors started with virtually nothing. A nd yet they accom plished
m uch more. T he O sm anli E m pire endured to our own times, in contrast to
the o th er A siatic em pires th at alm ost invariably disappeared with their
founders. We need to explain, therefore, not the simple and com m on occur
rence of an overw helm ing A siatic invasion, but rather the com plex com bina
tion of factors th at m ade possible the em ergence of a lasting new state out
of the rem nants of the decaying Seljuk and Byzantine empires.
A n im portant factor was religion. O sm an and his successors owed
m uch of their strength to the steady stream of ghazis, or w arriors of the faith,
who poured in from all parts of A natolia to do battle against the enemies of
Islam . O sm ans position near the Byzantine capital attracted an exceptionally
large num ber of these w arriors. W hereas the other em irs had consolidated
their holdings and stabilized their borders at an early date, O sm an was forced
to fight m uch longer and h arder to overcom e the Byzantine strongholds th at
he faced. This attracted to him a continuous supply of ghazis, so th at al
though he ruled a dom ain sm aller than those of other em irs, he possessed a
disproportionately large striking force. T he ghazi hosts not only m ade possi
ble the early successes against the Byzantine cities in A sia M inor, b u t also
virtually forced O sm ans successors to conquests further afield. T he everincreasing num bers of Islam ic w arriors who were attracted to the expanding
O sm anli frontier state had to be kept occupied in some m anner. The obvious
solution lay across the Straits, w here infidel B alkan kingdom s, feeble and
divided, prom ised rich spoils for the ghazis and new glory for the faith.
A nother im portant factor explaining the expansion of the O sm anlis

C om ing o] the O ttom an Turks: to 1402


was the unprecedented w eakness of the Byzantine defenses in the face of the
ghazi onslaught. T he im perial outposts in A sia M inor traditionally had been
m anned by special frontier troops know n as akritai. These rough and ready
guards originally had defended the em pire with great courage and energy,
but in later years they had becom e w ealthy and lax. W hen the Byzantine
em perors returned to C onstantinople in 1261 they virtually w iped out the
akritai by m eans of taxation and conscription. T he latter prom ptly revolted,
and, although they w ere suppressed, the defense system rem ained com pletely
disorganized. H enceforth the Byzantine em perors could m uster at the m ost
an arm y of only ten to twelve thousand m en, of which a large p a rt was un
In addition to these m ilitary considerations there were im portant
econom ic factors behind the O sm anli trium ph. T he late thirteenth and early
fourteenth centuries were years of econom ic and social disintegration in the
Byzantine provinces. M ost of the land was held by m onasteries and absentee
landow ners. T he destitute peasants were driven to acts of lawlessness, raiding
the large estates for foodstuffs and som etim es even appropriating land by
forceful m eans. W hen the T urks appeared, m any of these C hristian peasants
accepted and even hailed them as deliverers from their unbearable lot. A nd
contem porary evidence indicates th at the p easants lot did im prove. A narchy
and terro r in the countryside gave way to peace and security. In the place of
the form er absentee landow ners was a new class of sm all farm ers w ho n a t
urally identified their well-being with T urkish rule.
T he econom ic appeal of the T urks probably was heightened by their
A khi brotherhood. This consisted of corporations of craftsm en, devoted to
Islam and to the idea of chivalry, and practicing a com m unal life rem iniscent
of C hristian m onasticism . T heir golden rule was put the other m an above
thyself. T he fam ous A rab traveler, Ibn B attuta, experienced the hospitality
of these A khis w hen he journeyed through Asia M inor in 1333. N ow here
in the w orld, he reported, will you find men so eager to welcome travellers,
so prom pt to serve food and to satisfy the wants of others. . . . A stranger
com ing to them is m ade to feel as though he were meeting the dearest of his
own folk.
C ontem porary C hristians m ust have been im pressed by the contrast
betw een this benevolent b rotherhood and the institutions and practices w ithin
Byzantium . T he fact th at the A khi and all the other T urks were M oslem s
did not influence the C hristian G reeks as m uch as m ight be expected. In
contrast to the nineteenth century, w hen conflicting nationalist awakenings
aroused religious fanaticism in M oslem s and C hristians alike, the distinctions
betw een the rival religions at this tim e were blurred to a surprising degree.
T he M oslem B ektashi order, for exam ple, p u t little store by doctrinal differ
ences and cercm onial practices, and aim ed at the reconciliation of C hristian
ity and Islam. Likewise, not a few shrines in A sia M inor w ere frequented
* Numbered notes begin on page 847.


A g e o f O ttom an A scendancy to 1566

indiscrim inately by both C hristians and M oslems. It m ay be assum ed, then,

th at m any C hristians in this period found not only th at apostasy was expe
dient but also th at it required only a slight adjustm ent of their beliefs and
Finally, T urkish expansion was aided by the fact th at O sm ans p rin
cipality was situated astride the m ain routes from C onstantinople to central
A natolia. A s a result, the O sm anli lands had m ore intim ate contact with the
M oslem interior than did the other A natolian em irates. This in turn ensured
a steady supply of ulem a or M oslem doctors in law w ho interpreted the
K oran and w ho assum ed the vital role of organizing the adm inistration of
the new territories th at were being conquered. This ensured order and stabil
ity and thereby contributed to the strength and perm anence of the rising state.
In the light of these various factors the success of the Osm anlis
against m ighty Byzantium becom es com prehensible. First they captured B rusa
in 1326, w hen O sm an lay on his death bed. T hen his son and successor,
O rkhan, won the tw o rem aining large Byzantine cities in A sia M inor, N icaea
and N icom edia, in 1331 and 1337, respectively. N one of these cities was
taken by assault or by battle beneath its walls. R ather, they w ere abandoned
to their fate by the feeble em perors in C onstantinople. The T urks were per
m itted to settle in the surrounding countryside and to cut off the trade
upon which the prosperity of the cities depended. Y ears went by with no
effective relief from C onstantinople. In the end the G reek tow nspeople chose
subm ission as the sole alternative to econom ic ruin.

H aving broken the pow er of B yzantium in A sia M inor, O rkhan
penetrated to the coast, opposite which rose the m ajestic im perial capital.
Before attem pting to span the narrow chasm of the Straits, O rkhan paused
to consolidate his gains. Being now the ruler of a greatly expanded dom ain,
he dropped the title of em ir to assum e the m ore am bitious one of Sultan of
the O ttom ans. * In accordance with this new sense of sovereignty he coined
m oney in his own nam e to take the place of the Byzantine and Seljuk cu r
rency hitherto used.
His m ost im portant m easures had to do with his arm y. T he O sm anli
forces heretofore had consisted of volunteer horsem en who served for the
d uration of a cam paign and then returned to their villages. W ith a rapidly
expanding territory and with am bitions for further conquests, a perm anent
and w ell-disciplined force was needed. This was achieved by organizing a
cavalry m ilitia associated w ith land tenure. T he land was divided into fiefs,
the sm aller ones know n as tim ars and the larger as ziam ets. The holders
of these fiefs (tim ariots and ziam s) were obliged to serve in the event of war,
The word Ottoman is derived from the Turkish name Osman, which
comes Othman in Arabic. Hence the adjectives Osmanli in Turkish, Othmani in
Arabic, and Ottoman in common Western usage.

Coming of the Ottoman Turks: to 1402


and to com e with their followers, horses, and equipm ent in proportion to the
size of their fiefs.
This resem bled the feudal system then prevailing in W estern E urope,
though with certain im portant differences. T he fiefs were sm all in extent and
were not, as a rule, hereditary. T he tim ariots and ziams ow ed allegiance to
none but their ruler, from whom they directly held their land. A nd in con
trast to the W estern E uro p ean lim it of forty days annual service the tim ariots
and ziams were liable to be sum m oned for service for any length of time and
at any m om ent. T hus the sultan was assured of a large body of cavalry, de
pendent entirely upon him for its m aterial welfare, and always ready to
m arch under his banner.
In addition to these feudal levies, O rk h ans successor, M urad I
(1 3 5 9 -1 3 8 9 ), organized the body of infantrym en know n as the janissaries,
a term derived from the T urkish yenicheri o r new force. In later cen
turies these janissaries were to win international fam e as the scourge of C hris
tendom . T he janissary corps consisted of slaves who were either prisoners of
w ar or were bought from slave traders. In order to distinguish them from
other troops the slave guards were provided with tall white caps, which later
becam e the distinctive headgear of the janissaries.
Such a body of slave soldiers was by no m eans uncom m on am ong
M oslem rulers at this time. But one feature rendered the janissary corps
unique. This was the introduction of the devshirm e, or child-tribute, as a
m eans of recruitm ent. A t some uncertain date, probably during the reign of
the same M urad I, the T urks began to fill the ranks of the janissaries by
forcibly recruiting and training the children of their C hristian subjects. This
practice, discussed in C hap ter 6, probably started as a special levy and then
becam e regularized, with one fifth of the C hristian children being recruited
every five years.
These m ilitary developm ents converted the nascent O ttom an state
into a m ost pow erful engine for war. O rk h an was now ready for expansion,
and his line of advance was already foreshadow ed. H e could hardly strike
back into A sia M inor, occupied as it was by M oslem principalities. T o have
done so would have been to sin against Islam . B ut to the west was the rich
but feeble Byzantine E m pire, and beyond it other still w eaker C hristian
states. N ot only was the B alkan Peninsula open to invasion, but the whole
of C hristendom in the fourteenth century was w eakened and divided to an
unprecedented degree. T he O ttom ans hardly could have selected a m ore
propitious m om ent to begin their advance across the Straits into E urope.

T he O ttom ans were aided in the first place by the paralyzing effect
upon E urope of the terrible B lack D eath. Pestiferous G enoese galleys spread
the disease from Black Sea ports to C onstantinople in 1347, and in the fol
lowing year to harbors throughout the M editerranean. T hence the disease


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

spread all over W estern E urope an d east to P oland and Russia. In every
country whole sections of the population were carried off. T he econom ic and
m oral effects of this disaster were incalculable. C om m unications with the
L evant were partially cut off, and were not fully resum ed until after the T urks
w ere firmly rooted on the E uro p ean side of the Straits. The plague also con
tributed m uch to the outb reak of the Jacquerie in F rance (1 3 5 8 ) and the
P easan t R evolt in E ngland (1 3 8 1 ). C ountries suffering such calam ities were
not likely to concern them selves with events occurring at the other end of
E urope. T he following sequence of events suggests some relationship be
tw een social fragility in C hristendom and O ttom an success in Southeastern
E u ro p e: 1354, first T urkish settlem ent on the G allipoli Peninsula; 1358,
Jacquerie in France; 1381, Peasant Revolt in England; 1389, Serbian defeat
at Kosovo; 1514, P easant R evolt in H ungary; 1523, P easant R evolt in G er
m any; 1526, H ungarian defeat at M ohacs; 1529, T urks besiege V ienna.
E ngland and F ran ce were also absorbed during these crucial decades
in their ruinous H un d red Y ears W ar. T he dates of this conflict are significant.
It started in 1338, a year after N icom edia in A sia M inor fell to O rkhan, and
it lasted to 1453, when the O ttom ans capped their B alkan conquests by ta k
ing C onstantinople.
C onditions in Italy were equally unprom ising. Its two great com
m ercial pow ers, V enice and G enoa, were interested only in destroying each
other and in advancing their trading interests in the Levant. T o attain the
latter they did not hesitate to sign com m ercial agreem ents and even outright
alliances with the growing O ttom an power. Likewise the Papacy, which
hitherto had been the driving force behind the C rusades against Islam , was
a t its lowest ebb during these decades. T he B abylonian Captivity, the G reat
Schism, and the C onciliar M ovem ent all diverted the attention of fourteenthcentury popes from the growing peril of Islam in the E ast. Even had circum
stances been m ore favorable, the popes w ould have been little disposed to
rally W estern C hristendom to the rescue of the Byzantine heretics.
Finally, there was the helpless im potence of Byzantium herself. The
destructiveness of the L atin occupation, the hard blows of the Serbian
D ushan, the econom ic strangulation by the Italian m erchants, the dynastic
conflicts, and the econom ic distress and social strife all these ailm ents,
w hich we noted in the preceding chapter, m ade it impossible for the em pire
to rally once m ore as it had so frequently in the past.
N o r were the other B alkan kingdom s in a m ore vigorous state. Both
the Serbs and Bulgars were w racked by rival pretenders, w arring nobles, and
deep-rooted social and religious strife. T he popularity of the revolutionary
Bogomil heresy, a dualistic creed th at was w idespread in Bulgaria and Bosnia,
attests to the social fragility of the South Slav states. A ccording to the testi
m ony of a contem porary o pponent of the Bogomils, . . . they blasphem e
the w ealthy . . . ridicule the elders, condem n the nobles, regard as vile in
the sight of G od those who serve the tsar, and forbid all slaves to obey their
m asters. 2 In this attack we can discern the significance of the Bogomil

Coming of the Ottoman Turks: to 1402


m ovem ent, arising from the com m on people, led by ordinary parochial
priests, and seeking to bring relief and liberation to the oppressed m ultitudes.
Persecuted by the Catholics and the O rthodox churches alike, m any of these
Bogomils, as will be seen in the next chapter, turned to Islam and welcomed
the T urks as their deliverers.
W e m ay conclude th a t the entire B alkan Peninsula on the eve of the
T urkish invasion was socially as well as politically ripe for conquest. In the
w ords of a m odern authority, A feudal society, grinding the peasants, was
surprised by the shock [of the T urkish onslaught] and crum bled before it. . . .
This social reality explains the ravages and startling successes of the con
querors. . . . T he conquest, wiping out the great landholders, was from cer
tain view points, a liberation of p o o r devils. 3 A nother historian has em
phasized this point as follows:
Again and again gifted Serbians, or Bulgarians, or Greeks, who in their
own country could not rise from the position in which they were born, found an
open way to wealth, honour and power, a path to the saddle of a Beyler Bey
(Commander-in-Chief), or to the carpet of a Vizier, and perhaps to the golden
cage of one of the daughters or sisters of the Sultan himself! It seems a paradox
to say that the Turks opened new horizons to the people of the Balkan Peninsula.
Yet their political system, a combination of absolute despotism with the very
broadest democracy, had much in it that was novel and acceptable. To the notions
of an average Greek, and especially to the notions of an average Serbian or Bul
garian, that system was not more unnatural or more disagreeable than the feudal
system which secured all the good things of the world only to the nobles and the
T hus the fabulous successes which aw aited the O ttom ans becom e
com prehensible. They were due only in p art to the strength and single-m ind
edness of the invaders. M ore im portant was the disorganization and division
of W estern E urope, which precluded a united C hristian resistance, and the
fatal weakness of the B alkan states them selves, which created a vacuum
quickly filled by O ttom an power.
T he O sm anlis first entered E u ro p e not as conquerors or as settlers
but as m ercenaries. In 1345 an am bitious Byzantine official, John C antacuzenus, solicited the help of O rk h an to support his bid for the im perial
throne. H e offered O rkhan the hand of his daughter, T heodora, in return for
the services of six thousand soldiers. T he offer was accepted, the O ttom an
troops crossed the H ellespont, and to o k p a rt in a cam paign th a t carried
them to A drianople, to the B lack Sea, and, as allies of the usurper, into C on
stantinople itself. F o u r years later cam e a second invitation, this tim e for
twenty thousand soldiers to help save Saloniki from Stephen D ushan. O rkhan
again responded and his troops, having effected their purpose, once m ore re
turned hom e. Still a third time C antacuzenus, now engaged in civil war,


Coming of the Ottoman Turks: to 1402


sought the help of the O ttom ans, robbing the churches of C onstantinople of
their plate to pay O rkhan the m oney he dem anded.
H aving thus learned of the wealth and attractions of E urope, and
also of its disunion and w eakness, the O ttom ans soon took the next logical
step. In 1354 O rk h an s son led a body of troops across the H ellespont, not
as m ercenaries but as invaders. He seized the city of G allipoli near the
A egean end of the Straits, where he constructed strong fortifications and
stationed a large garrison. Gallipoli now becam e a strong O ttom an base for
further expansion into the Balkans.
C antacuzenus has fared badly at the hands of historians for his col
laboration with the T urks. It is doubtful, however, that his invitations sensibly
hastened the com ing of the O ttom ans. T he fact is that had he not called them
to E urope, they would have com e of their own volition. F urtherm ore, Stephen
D ushan also was seeking an alliance with the T urks, and the G enoese and
V enetians likewise w ere not averse to such a move. C antacuzenus merely
anticipated his rivals, and in doing so he probably delayed rath er than
hastened the fall of C onstantinople. If he had followed a hostile policy to
w ard the T urks, and the latter had retaliated by siding with the Serbs o r the
Italians, it is unlikely th at C onstantinople could have held out for another
century. As it was, Byzantine diplom acy diverted the T urks against the other
B alkan states, and during the following decades O rk h an s successors ad
vanced not against C onstantinople, but around the city into the B alkan
T he next Sultan, M urad I ( 1 3 5 9 -1 3 8 9 ), did not long leave the world
in doubt about his intentions. M arching suddenly to the northw est, he over
ra n large parts of T hrace and com pelled the em peror to relinquish title to the
province. In 1362 he captured A drianople, the great em porium and fortress
com m anding the route up the M aritsa V alley into the central Balkans. Sig
nificantly enough, he m ade this E uropean city his capital in place of Brusa in
A sia M inor, and it rem ained the O ttom an capital until the conquest of C on
stantinople. Thus the T urks established them selves firmly in the Balkans.
They entrenched their position by system atic colonization m easures, rem ov
ing large num bers of the native population to A sia M inor and settling Turkish
settlers in their place.
T he C entral E u ro p ean states, whose borders the T urks were ap
proaching, now becam e alarm ed. It was scarcely m ore th an a century since
the M ongols h ad sw ept through E astern E urope, overrunning H ungary,
Poland, and G erm any. A nd now a new host of A siatic conquerors was m arch
ing on C entral E u ro p e from the southeast. A t the instigation of Pope U rban V,
a crusading arm y of H ungarians, Serbians, Bosnians, and W allachians was
form ed, and in 1364 it set forth to recapture A drianople. It m arched undis
turbed to the M aritsa, b u t there it was surprised by a night attack and cut to


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

T he C hristian defeat on the banks of the M aritsa hastened the fall

of B ulgaria. This country was divided politically am ong three pretenders and
religiously by three creeds O rthodox, C atholic, and Bogomil. It was also
harassed from the north by King Louis of H ungary, who aspired to Bulgarian
territory under the pretext of the defense of the Catholic faith. The atrocities
of H ungarian soldiers and the forceful proselytism of Franciscan m issionaries
prep ared m any Bulgarians for willing subm ission to the T urks as the lesser
of two evils. T hus M urad overran the country w ith little opposition, and
com pelled its leaders in 1366 to becom e his vassals.
T he Serbians offered stiffer resistance but with no m ore success.
T heir great D ushan had died in 1355, and his w eak successor was ignored
by the nobles, who plunged the country into near anarchy. N evertheless, the
Serbs resolved to stop the T urks in the valley of the M aritsa and m arched
as far as C hernom en, between Philippopolis and A drianople. T here, at dawn
on Septem ber 26, 1371, a greatly inferior T urkish force surprised them and
slaughtered large num bers. So great was the carnage th at the battlefield is
still called the Serbs destruction.
M acedonia was now at the m ercy of the T urks. K avalla, D ram a, and
Serres fell into their hands as they m arched west to the V ardar. In 1372 they
crossed the V ardar and m ade raids into Bosnia, A lbania, and Greece. But
these were still raids, not perm anent conquests. T he T urks next pushed n o rth
w ard into the central B alkans, capturing the key city of Sofia in 1384 or
1385. This opened the route to the Serbian tow n of Nish, which fell in 1386.
But most of Serbia was allowed to rem ain under its Prince Lazar on the con
dition that he becom e vassal to M urad, pay tribute, and furnish troops when
dem anded. Precisely the sam e arrangem ent had been forced upon the By
zantine em peror a few years earlier.
In fact, a definite p attern is discernible in the O ttom ans strategy of
conquest. F irst they established their suzerainty over neighboring rulers, re
quiring them to pay tribute and to furnish troops when required. M urads
successor, Bayezid I, was the first sultan who took th e next step, imposing
direct rule by elim inating the native dynasties, dividing the land am ong his
followers, and recording the population and resources into official registers
or defterdars. A t this point it should be noted th at the obligations assum ed
by the native rulers during the first stage were by no m eans nom inal. O ver
an d over again the O ttom ans won victories with the aid of substantial C hris
tian contingents.
This was true of the great battle which in 1389 destroyed the rem
nants of Serbian independence. M urad had been called to A natolia by dis
orders in his A sian dom ains. L azar seized the opportunity to com bine forces
w ith the king of Bosnia, T vrtko, for a final bid for independence. In 1388 the
tw o leaders defeated the O ttom ans in three successive battles. These vic
tories drew together a coalition of Bosnians, Serbians, Bulgarians, W allachians, and A lbanians. M urad m eanw hile had pacified A sia M inor and
hurried back with all his forces. He sum m oned to their duties his south Ser

Coming of the Ottoman Turks: to 1402


bian, Bulgarian, and A lbanian vassals, and on June 15, 1389, fought a great
battle on the Kosovo Plain near the Serbian-B ulgarian border.
It was the culm inating conflict, an irretrievable disaster for the
South Slavs. T he story of the struggle has becom e the subject of legend to
such an extent th a t we do not know exactly w hat happened on the battlefield.
Sultan M urad was assassinated during o r after the battle by a faithless ally,
a deserter, or a w ounded soldier. B ut assassinated he was, and the O ttom ans
avenged their leader by killing the com m on prisoners as they captured them
and executing L azar and the other C hristian princes after the battle.
T o com plete the tragedy of the day, Bayezid, on hearing of the death
of his father, and his own consequent accession to the throne, gave orders for
the im m ediate m urder of his b rother Y akub. T here was to be no question of
the succession to the throne. F o r the next tw o centuries it was the settled prac
tice for the sultans, upon their accession, to p u t to death their brothers and
other collaterals lest they should dispute the accession.

Before his accession Bayezid I (1 3 .8 9 -1 4 0 2) had earned by his
prowess on the battlefield the title Y ilderim or T hunderbolt. A s sultan he
lived up to this reputation. D uring the thirteen years of his rule he firmly
established T urkish dom ination over the B alkans and paved the way for the
capture of C onstantinople a half century later. Bayezid followed up the great
Kosovo victory by forcing Stephen, the successor of L azar, to sue for peace.
T he term s agreed upon provided that Serbia should be an autonom ous state,
recognizing O ttom an suzerainty, paying an annual tribute, and providing a
contingent of five thousand soldiers for the use of the sultan. Bayezid calcu
lated th at these lenient conditions w ould assure him Serbian support in future
cam paigns, and he was not m istaken. In the great battles of Nicopolis against
the W estern crusaders, and of A nk ara against the M ongols, Bayezid had no
m ore loyal soldiers th an the Serbians led by Prince Stephen in person.
H aving com e to term s with Serbia, Bayezid turned his attention to
A sia M inor. It is a curious and im portant fact that the O ttom an E m pire at
this point was m ore E uro p ean than A siatic. Its greatest extent lay to the west
of the Straits and its capital had been m oved from B rusa to A drianople. This
w estw ard orientation h ad been due partly to the strength of the A natolian
em irates, in contrast to the weakness of the Balkan states, and partly to the
reluctance of earlier O sm anlis to fight fellow Moslems. T he latter considera
tion was of no concern to Bayezid, and as for m ilitary strength, his state now
possessed far greater resources th a n any A natolian em irate. A ccordingly in
1390 he began his conquests in A sia M inor.
It is im portant to note th a t the ghazis or w arriors of the faith, who
had spearheaded the onslaught on the C hristian B alkans, were reluctant to
participate in a cam paign against M oslem states. This was due not only to
obvious religious reasons but also to the m ore m undane consideration th at


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

looting and pillaging could not be practiced so freely in M oslem lands. Thus
Bayezid was forced to rely m ostly on the janissaries and on Serbian and
G reek contingents. This use of C hristian infidels against M oslem states scan
dalized the faithful and later boom eranged fatally against Bayezid at a critical
stage of his fortunes.
D espite these com plications Bayezid had little difficulty in occupying
the A egean coastlands and penetrating into the interior. By 1394 he had
overrun K aram ania, the leading A natolian em irate, and also had absorbed
by various m eans several others, thereby extending his frontier to Sivas. His
A siatic dom ains now were bordered by the w eak C hristian states, A rm enia,
G eorgia, and T rebizond, and by friendly M oslem kingdom s in Syria and the
T igris-E uphrates Valley. T he only m enace to the O ttom ans was from the
aggressive M ongols, who were approaching Asia M inor from the east led by
their form idable conqueror T im ur the Lam e o r Tim urlane. B ut T im ur at
this point turned away from Asia M inor, em barking instead on his w hirl
wind cam paigns through southern R ussia, T urkestan, Persia, India, and
Syria. Bayezid thus h ad a respite of seven years, during which tim e he ex
tended his dom ain in the Balkans.
T he strength and boldness of Bayezid is shown by the fact that while
cam paigning in A sia M inor he had at the same tim e overrun eastern Bul
garia and W allachia and laid siege to C onstantinople itself. E astern Bulgaria
hitherto had enjoyed an independent existence, but on July 17, 1393, its capi
tal, T irnovo, fell to a large T urkish arm y. This event com pleted the servitude
of the B ulgarian people. T h eir entire country now was under O ttom an rule.
A lthough the exact sequence of events is obscure, the latest research '
indicates th at the T urks overran W allachia following their successes in Bul
garia. W allachia was a newly form ed B alkan state situated on the northern
bank of the D anube. Its inhabitants, the Latin-speaking R um anians, were
the descendants of the D aco-R om an stock of the ancient period. A fter cen
turies of b arb arian invasions and periods of Bulgarian, H ungarian, and T a ta r
overlordship, the R um anians had succeeded in the first half of the fourteenth
century in form ing two principalities, W allachia along the D anube and M ol
davia to the north. It was the ruler of W allachia, Prince M ircea, th at Bayezid
defeated on M ay 17, 1395. Bayezid w ithdrew after M ircea agreed to pay
tribute and to cooperate against the H ungarians. T he latter point is im por
tant. T he W allachians faced tw o enem ies, the H ungarians as well as the
Turks. O f these, the form er probably were considered the m ore dangerous.
T he kings of H ungary were determ ined not only to reduce W allachia to po
litical servitude but also to im pose the C atholic faith on its O rthodox p o pula
tion. T he O ttom ans, in contrast, granted their Bogomil and O rthodox sub
jects liberty to practice their own rites to an extent inconceivable to pious
C atholic rulers. T he T urks were also indifferent to the constitution or leader
ship of their vassal states so long as they paid regularly the tribute of m oney
and men. T hese considerations helped to explain the am bivalence of M ircea
and his W allachians w hen the W estern crusaders appeared a few years later.

Coming of the Ottoman Turks: to 1402


M eanwhile E m peror John V had died in 1391, and his son, M anuel,
who had been kept virtual hostage at B ayezids court, secretly fled to C on
stantinople, w here he was installed on the throne. Bayezid prom ptly sent an
envoy to the new em peror w ith the following m essage: If you wish to exe
cute my orders, close the gates of the city and reign within it; but all th a t lies
outside belongs to m e. 8 This was not an idle threat. F o r four years Bayezid
com pelled the em peror to do his bidding, even to the point of forcing him to
join in the A sia M inor cam paigns. M anuel accepted the hum iliation in the
hope of thereby saving C onstantinople. B ut in the end he realized th at ap
peasem ent would not suffice and th at the sultan aim ed at nothing less th an
the conquest of w hat rem ained of the em pire. M anuel then decided to break
definitely with Bayezid and turned to the W est for support. Bayezid in tu rn
sent an arm y to ravage the Peloponnesus while he himself began about 1395
the first T urkish siege of C onstantinople. F o r nearly eight years he invested
the city, until T im u rs invasion forced him to m arch eastw ard to his doom .
Only the weakness of the O ttom an navy, which was unable to cut Byzantine
contact with the outside w orld, enabled C onstantinople to survive the ordeal
of these years.
Bayezids conquests were not confined to the Balkans. H e also cap
tured the fortresses of Nicopolis, Vidin, and Silistria, thus opening the way
into H ungary, while his akinjis, or m ounted scouts, spread terro r over the
H ungarian plains, burning and destroying villages, and carrying off their in
habitants as slaves. King Sigisniund of H ungary at first resorted to diplom acy.
He sent an em bassy to Bayezid to ask by w hat right he had invaded Bulgarian
lands which were ancient possessions of the H ungarian crow n. Bayezid led
the am bassadors to his arsenal, pointed to B ulgarian w eapons hanging on the
walls, and replied th at so long as he could seize such arm s, he had right not
only over Bulgaria, but also over H ungary itself.
Sigismund appealed to the W estern princes for assistance. H e was
supported by Pope Boniface IX , who called for a crusade against the infidels.
T he enthusiastic response, rem iniscent of earlier C rusades against the S ara
cens, was due in p art to the growing fear of the T urks, but probably more to
the tem porary cessation of the H undred Y ears W ar, which left the undisci
plined chivalry of E urope unoccupied and restless.
N obles and their attendants cam e from all parts of France, G erm any,
England, and th e N etherlands. In the spring of 1396 they joined the H un
garians at Buda. A p art of the H ungarian force m arched through the T ra n
sylvanian m ountains to W allachia w ith the intention of forcing the hesitant
Prince M ircea to join their ranks. In this they succeeded, and the two forces
crossed the D anube near Nicopolis, where they met the m ain body, which
had followed the shorter and easier route dow n the D anube Valley. Even in
Catholic G erm any and H ungary the crusaders had behaved disgracefully.
W hen they entered the Balkans they treated the O rthodox peasants as though


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

they were the enemy. T he clergy urged the leaders to check the pillaging and
debauchery, but the response, as they ruefully observed, was as though they
had been talking to a deaf ass. T he whole arm y, in fact, was in a state of
indiscipline and disorder, boastfully contem ptuous of the enem y, and spend
ing its tim e in gam bling and in riotous living with the large num bers of
F o r two weeks the crusaders besieged Nicopolis. T hey did not at
tem pt an assault, being undecided w hether they should go further to seek the
T urkish arm y or to aw ait its coming. Bayezid did not leave them long in un
certainty. Sum m oning his C hristian allies he descended upon the crusaders
and prepared for battle on the plain before N icopolis. T he tw o armies were
of approxim ately equal strength, though their num bers rem ain disputed,
estim ates ranging from tw enty thousand to a hundred thousand on each side.
T he W estern knights repeated the worst tactics of Crecy and Poitiers.
Refusing to heed the advice of Sigismund, who had experience with O ttom an
strategy, they charged recklessly against the T urks and to their own destruc
tion. They broke the first line of the enem y but this consisted only of irregu
lars. W hen they cam e upon the veteran and disciplined O ttom an regulars,
their energy was spent and their horses were tired. T he outcom e was inevi
table; the p roud nobles perished in droves and the rem ainder were forced to
surrender. T he H ungarian infantry fared no better, while the W allachians,
seeing how the battle was going, discreetly withdrew from the field w ithout
a fight. Only the H ungarian center under Sigismund held out, but its fate
was sealed when the Serbians under Prince Stephen cam e to the aid of
Bayezid at a critical m om ent.
T he m ain body of the W estern arm y lied in utter confusion. Those
who escaped across the D anube suffered at the hands of the outraged peas
antry as they crossed the C arpathians to H ungary. T he prisoners were exe
cuted by order of Bayezid in retaliation for the m assacre of the T urkish ir
regulars by the F rench knights. Only a handful of C hristian leaders were
spared, for whose release Bayezid later exacted a ransom of 20,000 pieces of
gold. T hus ended the ill-fated N icopolis crusade. N ot only was the disaster
a hum iliation for E uropean chivalry. It sealed the fate of C onstantinople,
confirm ed the grip of the O ttom ans upon the Balkans, and prepared the way
for their later advance to Buda and Vienna.
Bayezids overw helm ing trium ph at Nicopolis contributed, ironically
enough, to his defeat and death at the hands of T im ur a few years later. The
explanation is to be found in the very ease with which Bayezid had defeated
the W estern knights. This so em boldened him, and led him to overestim ate
his strength so grossly, that he becam e arrogant and insulting in his relations
w ith the great M ongol conqueror. T he result was the outbreak of w ar b e
tw een B ayezid and T im ur in 1402.
T im ur cam e from a m inor T urkish noble family in T urkestan. A fter

Coming of the Ottoman Turks: to 1402


long and relentless fighting he restored the vast em pire of Genghis K han. He
subdued C entral A sia, the G olden H orde in southern Russia, India, Persia,
M esopotam ia, Syria, and then turned against the arrogant sultan of the O tto
m an Em pire. W hen hostilities began, it soon becam e apparent th at Bayezids
position was not as strong as it seem ed to be on the surface. His use of
C hristian forces against the A natolian em irates now told decisively against
him. A num ber of the deposed M oslem rulers were to be found in T im u rs
cam p. Also, the local A natolian levies proved to be unreliable when the
final test cam e with the battle of A n k ara in July, 1402. Bayezid placed the
inferior A natolian troops in the front line in accordance with the established
O ttom an practice that had proved so successful at Nicopolis and elsewhere.
But in this case the tactic proved his undoing. The A natolians showed no
desire to fight for the O ttom an sultan, and being out in front they were able
to desert in a body to Tim ur. Since they com prised a full q u arter of Bayezids
arm y, their defection decidcd the issue. T he Serbian levies fought bravely
and loyally for the sultan but to no avail. T im ur won an overwhelm ing vic
tory, capturing Bayezid him self as he attem pted to flee.
T im ur followed up his trium ph by overrunning the greater p art of
A sia M inor and reinstating the A natolian em irs who had been dispossessed
by the O ttom ans. In order to forestall a future resurgence of O ttom an pow er
he gave the K aram ania em irate much m ore territory than it had controlled
before. Its new frontiers jutted northw ard, serving as a barrier betw een the
reduced O ttom an state and the interior of Asia M inor. T he unfortunate Baye
zid, despairing of the future of his em pire, com m itted suicide in M arch,
1403, while still in captivity.
It is interesting to speculate how different the course of events might
have been if the Nicopolis crusade had not occurred until the time of T im urs
victory. Instead of perishing on the D anube, the crusaders might have reached
the Straits and ended O ttom an rule in Europe forever. As it was, precisely
half a century after Bayezids suicide, M oham m ed the C onqueror was able
to realize Bayezids am bition by taking possession of C onstantinople.

4. Conquest of the Balkans: 14 03 -14 81

J L h e y e a r 1403 m arked the nadir of O ttom an fortunes.

W ith Bayezid dead and his sons fighting for the succession, it appeared that
T im u r had destroyed the rising O ttom an power with one stroke. Y et within
a decade the em pire was restored and the career of conquest resum ed. A nd
half a century later the T urks captured C onstantinople, ending the citys
m illenium of suzerainty over the dom ains of Byzantium . M oham m ed 11, the
co nqueror of C onstantinople, then proceeded to establish direct Turkish rule
over virtually the entire territory from the Black Sea to the A driatic, and
from the C arpathians to the A egean. T hus the Balkans cam e fully and in
disputably under O ttom an dom ination before the end of the fifteenth century.

T he restoration of the O ttom an E m pire following T im urs great tri
um ph was not due entirely to good fortune as is som etim es assum ed. T im urs
dep artu re from A sia M inor in 1403 and his death in C hina a few years later
certainly aided the O ttom an cause. T he M ongol conqueror left nothing behind
him, neither an arm y n o r an adm inistration. A pow er vacuum was created,
which the O ttom ans quickly exploited to re-establish their authority. But they
w ere by no m eans able to do so sim ply by virtue of T im urs death. O ther
parties m ight have taken advantage of the situation, including the W esterners
who had been defeated at Nicopolis, the B alkan C hristians who had only
recently been subjected to T urkish rule, and the K aram anians who had been
built up by T im ur as a counterw eight to the O ttom ans. T he question rem ains
why none of these parties asserted them selves w hereas the O ttom ans were
able to do so.
T he answ er is to be found in the ghazi dom ination of the B alkan
Peninsula. T he w arriors of the faith had disapproved of, and refused to p ar
ticipate in, Bayezids cam paigns against the A natolian em irs and against

Conquest of the Balkans: 1403-1481


Tim ur. Furtherm ore, T im ur had not crossed the Straits; hence the ghazis
rem ained the unchallenged m asters of the peninsula. This explains why
B ayezids defeat and death were not followed by a W estern invasion of the
B alkans or by an uprising of the B alkan peoples themselves. T hus the ghazis
provided the basis necessary for the resurgence of O ttom an power. In fact,
they also decided in large m easure who was to be the successor to Bayezid.
O f all B ayezids sons, it appeared at first th at the oldest, Suleim an,
was to succeed his father. Follow ing the disaster at A nkara, Suleim an was
able to escape across the Straits and establish himself at A drianople. A little
later he also secured T im u rs approval of his rule of the Balkans. By con
trast, his youngest brother, M oham m ed, was precariously m aintaining a hold
ing in A sia M inor, threatened constantly by both T im ur and the K aram anians.
Y et in the end it was M oham m ed who prevailed and becam e the sultan of
the O ttom an E m pire. T he reason is that the B alkan ghazis preferred him
over Suleim an. T he latter was rath er effem inate and yielding, as is evidenced
by the m any concessions th at he m ade to C hristian rulers in order to con
solidate his position. T o the Byzantines he surrendered Saloniki, Thessaly,
and certain islands, while to V enice he gave certain ports in A lbania and the
The ghazis viewed these m easures with deep revulsion. As fighters
for Islam they w anted a ruler who would lead them against the infidel, not
one who yielded territory already conquered. It was this opposition of the
ghazis to Suleim an th at eventually proved decisive during the internecine
w ar am ong B ayezids sons. O n F ebru ary 17, 1411, Suleim an was killed in a
battle n ear Sofia and Bayezids youngest son succeeded to the throne as
M oham m ed I (1 4 1 3 -1 4 2 1 ).
In view of the circum stances of M oham m eds succession it is not
surprising' th at his reign w itnessed the renew al of O ttom an pressure against
Christendom . G hazi hosts once m ore were let loose on H ungary and Styria.
A t the sam e time, however, it was dem onstrated that the T urks were not yet
ready to m eet the C hristians at sea. T he T urks had been building for some
tim e a naval base and arsenal at G allipoli. This caused the V enetians m uch
concern because of the th reat it represented to the passage of their B lack
Sea trading fleet. In M ay, 1416, an unusual concentration of O ttom an w ar
ships at G allipoli led to friction with the V enetians which culm inated in a
naval battle in which the bulk of the T urkish fleet was captured o r destroyed.
M oham m ed recognized the superiority of the enemy and wisely negotiated
an honorable peace. This naval engagem ent was the prelude to the great
m aritim e w ars th a t w ere to be fought a few decades later after the T urks
h ad served their apprenticeship at sea.
M oham m eds successor, M u rad II ( 1 4 2 1 -1 4 5 1 ), was a stern and
aggressive ruler who continued the ghazi tradition. His three decades on the
throne were years of continual w arfare. By the time of his death he had


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

decisively defeated the E u ro p ean pow ers, re-established undisputed control

over the B alkan Peninsula, and isolated the Byzantine capital so com pletely
th at its final dow nfall no longer could be postponed.
A t the tim e of M u rad s accession, the aged Byzantine em peror,
M anuel II, w ithdrew from state affairs in favor of his son, Jo h n V III. T he
latter lacked his fath ers experience in dealing with the T urks and rashly d e
cided to support a claim ant to M u rad s throne. T he pretenders revolt failed
and M u rad determ ined to avenge the perfidy by capturing C onstantinople
and putting an end to the troublesom e G reek em pire. In 1422 he besieged the
city closely though w ithout success. T he cannon, then used for the first time
by the O ttom an arm y, were not as yet effective against the great walls of the
capital, and the T urkish navy was not able to cut off C onstantinople from
the outside world. T he appearance of a new pretender forced M urad to raise
the siege and tu rn to A sia M inor, where he reduced the hostile em irs to
com plete subjection. O n the death of M anuel in 1425, M urad, in lieu of re
newing the siege of C onstantinople, forced upon E m peror John a new treaty
exacting heavy tribute and stripping him of alm ost every possession beyond
the walls of his capital.
M urad now turned his forces against the naval might of Venice. This
great com m ercial pow er traditionally had been careful to placate the O tto
m ans for fear of jeopardizing its trad e interests in the Levant, especially the
vital grain supply from the Black Sea region. In pursuance of this policy
V enice had negotiated a com m ercial agreem ent with the T urks as early as
1388. It had also refrained from com m itting itself to any anti-T urkish coali
tion, a precaution which had draw n upon it the denunciation of C hristendom ,
particularly during the N icopolis crusade. A t this tim e, however, Venice was
forced to stand firm against the T urks. T he growing sea pow er of the O tto
m an E m pire and its steady advance into A lbania and tow ard the A driatic
coast confronted the V enetians with the nightm arish prospect of Turkish
control of the O tran to Strait. T o forestall such an eventuality the V enetians
extended their coastal possessions in A lbania and the Peloponnesus, and in
1423 gained control of the great M acedonian outlet, Saloniki.
This large city had been governed by one of E m peror Jo h n s brothers
who, realizing th at he could not hold it against the T urks, handed it to the
V enetians w ith the stipulation th at they w ould protect and nourish it, raise
its prosperity, and m ake it a second V enice. B ut Saloniki rem ained V enetian
for only seven short years. T he T urks refused to tolerate an Italian outpost
in M acedonia and started a naval cam paign against V enetian establishm ents
throughout the A egean. T he O ttom an navy was now show n to have caught
up w ith and surpassed the V enetian in the decade since the defeat of M o
ham m eds fleet at G allipoli. V enice was also handicapped by a w ar which
broke out with M ilan. T he T urks thus were able to ravage the V enetian sta
tions in the A egean, capture Saloniki in 1430, and force Venice to sue for
H aving disposed of the V enetians, M urad proceeded to settle ac

Conquest of the Balkans: 1403-1481


counts with the H ungarians. First he invaded Serbia, whose prince, G eorge
B rankovich, had attem pted to assert his independence by seeking the sup
p o rt of the H ungarians and ceding to them the fortress of Belgrade. A fter
a brief cam paign in J439 Serbia was once more a T urkish province and
Brankovich a refugee across the river in H ungary.
A new figure now arose to check for a time the O ttom an advance.
John H unyadi was a R um anian who had entered the service of H ungary and
fought with such success against the T urks that he becam e a H ungarian n a
tional hero. T he white knight of W allachia, as he was called on account of
his silver arm or shining in the van of battle, becam e a m aster of frontier
w arfare and for twenty years was the terro r of the O ttom an armies. In fact,
he might be described as a C hristian ghazi, dedicated to fighting against the
hosts of Islam. He began his victorious career when, following his appoint
ment as governor of T ransylvania in 1441, he defeated the T urks several
times on the slopes of the C arpathians and in the neighborhood of Bel
grade. These victories aroused great enthusiasm in E urope and inspired an
other crusade to drive the O ttom ans back to Asia.
Pope Eugenius tried to mobilize Christendom against the T urks but
the usual dynastic rivalries prevented a united effort. In the end a coalition
was form ed led by V ladislav, king of H ungary and Poland, and including
P rince V lad of W allachia, the exiled B rankovich of Serbia, and a consider
able num ber of F rench and G erm an knights. T hough nom inally led by
Vladislav, the C hristian host actually was under the com m and of the re
now ned Hunyadi. In 1443 he took the offensive, defeated two Turkish arm ies
in Serbia, captured N ish, crossed the B alkan range in w inter, and advanced
to Sofia. By January his supplies had run short, so he returned to Buda to dis
play his trophies and receive a co n q u ero rs trium ph.
M urad decided to com e to term s with the C hristians because the
G reeks in the Peloponnesus had revolted, the A lbanians were also up in arm s,
and trouble had broken out in Asia M inor. A ccordingly he signed a ten-year
truce in June, 1444, in which he recognized the independence of Serbia and
abandoned W allachia to H ungary. H aving secured peace with these conces
sions, M u rad left the B alkans to cam paign in A sia M inor. T he H ungarians
noted th at M u rad was absent and th at only about seven thousand T urkish
troops w ere left in T hrace. So, with the encouragem ent of the pope, they
broke the truce and resum ed the crusade. T he H ungarians planned to m arch
quickly through the B alkans while the V enetians prevented the T urks from
recrossing the Straits and the G reeks m ade diversionary attacks in the Pelo
O nly the G reeks fulfilled their task and for this they later paid a
heavy price. T he V enetians were prevented by unfavorable winds from seal
ing the Straits, and M urad was able to bribe the G enoese to transport his
arm y to the E uropean shore on barges. M eanwhile the H ungarians and their

Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566


allies started their advance later th an planned and w ithout the support of
B rankovich, who was unwilling to risk his newly regained throne. The re
duced C hristian arm y invaded Bulgaria, descended the D anube to the coast,
and thence m arched to V arna. T here they were confronted by a superior
T urkish arm y led by M urad, who had hastily returned from A sia M inor.
T he ensuing battle, on N ovem ber 10, 1444, was a repetition of Nicopolis.
D espite their inferior num bers the C hristians at first had the advantage. B ut
in the end the T urks w on out because of their greater discipline. King V ladi
slav, less fortunate th an Sigismund, perished on the battlefield, while H unyadi
saved him self only by ignom inious flight.
T he V arn a b attle stands out prom inently in the history of TurkishW estern relations. It shattered the belief of the C hristians th at they were cap a
ble of driving the T urks back into Asia. C hristian princes took the defeat as
a judgm ent of G od against V ladislav for having broken the peace. T he V arna
crusade represented the last attem pt of W estern E urope to rescue the sinking
Byzantine Em pire. N ow C onstantinople was left to its fate. M eanw hile the
T urks encased V ladislavs head in a b arrel of honey and sent it to Brusa,
w here it was stuck on a pike and carried jubilantly in the streets. In the
m onth in which the V arna b attle was fought, M urad retired from the throne
as he had done several years earlier for a brief period, and w ent to a luxurious
retreat in A sia M inor to spend his rem aining days'.
In A ugust, 1446, he returned to the throne for reasons that rem ain
obscure. A t once he swung into action as of old. F irst he invaded the Pelo
ponnesus and com pelled its G reek princes to becom e his vassals. T hen in
1448 he again defeated H unyadi on the sam e field of Kosovo where in 1389
M u rad I had subdued the Serbians. In contrast to the first Kosovo battle, the
Serbians under their wily Prince B rankovich now refused to join H unyadi
and rem ained neutral. This cautious policy earned Serbia a few more years
of precarious autonom y, though it did not prevent the final annexation of the
country by the next sultan.
O nly in distant A lbania did M urad fail to im pose his rule. T here a
prim itive p astoral people, under the inspired leadership of their great national
hero, G eorge K astriotis m ore com m only know n as Skanderbeg fought a
fierce and successful guerrilla w arfare against successive O ttom an arm ies.1'
In fact, Skanderbeg was on his way to join forces with H unyadi w hen the
latter was defeated by the T urks at K osovo. D espite this setback, Skanderbeg
was able to hold his own in the m ountains of his native land.
M u rad s failure in A lbania was trivial in com parison with his o u t
standing accom plishm ents elsewhere. H e m ore than held his own against
the naval might of Venice. He firmly buttressed the D anube frontier with his
victories at V arn a and K osovo. A nd he left C onstantinople com pletely sur
rounded by T urkish territory, w ithout hope of relief from any quarter.
* See pages 496-501.

Conquest of the Balkans: 1403-1481


T he new sultan, M oham m ed II ( 1 4 5 1 -1 4 8 1 ), was determ ined th at

the im perial prize th a t aw aited him on the shores of the B osphorus should
not elude him as it h ad his forebears, Bayezid I and M urad II. C ontem porary
travelers described C onstantinople as a city still aw e-inspiring w ith its splen
did im perial traditions, still impressive with its tiers of mighty fortifications,
b u t with negligible inn er resources to m aintain this glittering faade.
It is very strong walled in a way that is a marvel to see. . . . the walls
are very high and are made of great marble blocks bound together. . . . The city
is sparsely populated. . . . The inhabitants are not well clad, but sad and poor,
showing the hardship of their lot. . . . The Emperors Palace must have been very
magnificent, but now it is in such a state that both it and the city show the evils
which the people have suffered and still endure. . . . properly regarded, he [the
Emperor] is like a Bishop without a See. . . . I believe that God has spared it
[Constantinople], more for the holy relics it contains than for anything else.1
M oham m ed was not a m an to be deterred by either holy relics or
m arble walls. D uring the w inter 1 4 5 2 -1 4 5 3 he m ade elaborate preparations
for the siege. In 1452 he com pleted the R um eli H issar, or Castle of E urope,
at a narrow point on the BQsphorus n orth of C onstantinople and opposite the
older A nadol H issar, or Castle of A sia. This assured freedom of passage
betw een A natolia and E urope, and closed the B osphorus to C onstantinople.
M oham m ed also had the services of a certain U rban, of H ungarian o r W allachian origin, who cast for him enorm ous bronze bom bards firing stone balls
thirty inches in diam eter. M oham m ed was the first sovereign in history to
possess a real park of artillery: fourteen batteries consisting of thirteen great
bom bards and fifty-six sm aller cannon. T hese were dragged by oxen to C on
stantinople, w here they played a decisive role in the battle. M oham m eds
arm y is estim ated at roughly a hundred and fifty thousand, the core being the
form idable janissaries, who at th at tim e were recruited exclusively from
C hristian families. In addition to the janissaries and the regular levies from
the E u ro p ean and A siatic territories, there w ere about one hundred thousand
irregulars and cam p followers eager for the sack of the city.
This was the force th a t faced the hitherto im pregnable walls of C on
stantinople. T he city is built in the shape of a triangle, bounded on the north
by its harbor, the G olden H orn, on the south by the Sea of M arm ora, and on
the west by the plains extending to the foothills of Thrace. O n all sides the
city was protected by a massive w all which was strongest on the land front
age, where three walls rose in successive tiers. T he outer wall was a breast
w ork surm ounting a m o at some forty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. T he
second wall was twenty-five feet high, the third forty feet, and each of these
was furnished with tow ers capable of sheltering considerable num bers of sol
diers. Between these walls were enclosures sixty feet broad, in which the de
fending forces could assem ble their arm s and supplies and m arch from one


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

section to another. These pow erful fortifications, built by E m peror Theodosius

II in the fifth century, h ad protected the city through tw enty sieges. B ut now,
tw o factors tipped the scales for the first tim e against the defenders: the
artillery of the O ttom ans and the unprecedented weakness of the G reek forces.
T he capitals population by this tim e had sunk to about sixty to
seventy thousand. O f this num ber some five thousand were ready to bear
arm s against the T urks. E m p ero r C onstantines appeal to E urope produced
few recruits. In the hope of winning the support of W estern C hristendom ,
earlier em perors on three separate occasions had agreed to the submission of
the O rthodox C hurch to the pope (U nions of Lyons, 1274; R om e, 1369; and
Florence, 1 4 3 9 ). B ut each agreem ent for union proved meaningless in the
face of the undying hatred of the O rthodox G reeks for the Catholic L atins
a h atred intensified by the barbarities of the F ourth C rusade and the m erci
less strangle hold of the Italian m erchants. A t this tim e, therefore, the po p es
reply to the em perors plea was to send C ardinal Isidore to Constantinople
with a total of two hundred soldiers. W hen the cardinal arrived he proceeded
to St. Sophia, the great church of the O rthodox world, w here he read a sol
em n prom ulgation of the union dictum of the Council of Florence and cele
b rated the union liturgy, including the nam e of the pope. This so agitated the
populace th a t it raised the cry Better Islam th an the pope a bitter and de
fiant answ er to the L atin s B etter Islam than schism . This exchange had
often been heard before, but this tim e Islam was at the gates, ready and able
to accept the invitation.
T he papal contingent was followed by others from Italy and Spain,
the m ost im portant being seven hundred G enoese under G iovanni G iustiniani,
a brave and experienced soldier of fortune who proved to be the main sup
p o rt of Constantine. T he total force available for the defense of the city
am ounted to no m ore th an eight thousand, a num ber totally inadequate to
m an the series of walls and to repair the breaches pounded by the enem y
cannon. Y et C onstantine proceeded w ith the defense of the city with a cour
age, energy, and devotion w orthy of a last em peror of thousand-year-old
Byzantium . H e collected supplies from the neighboring countryside, strength
ened the walls which had been badly repaired by fraudulent contractors, and
called on his subjects to fight for the faith and for the city protected by
G o d .
O n A pril 2, E aster M onday, the T urkish guns w ere dragged near the
edge of the m oat and am idst the beating of drum s and the shouting of th o u
sands of excited m en the first m ass bom bardm ent in history began. It was a
slow affair, the great bom bards requiring two hours to load and firing only
seven tim es a day. T he huge balls gradually tore breaches in the ancient
walls, and on A pril 18 M oham m ed ordered an assault down the Lycus V al
ley at approxim ately the m id-point of the land walls. G iustiniani was in com -



Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

m and at this critical sector and, with a w ithering fire from harquebuses, wall
guns, bows, and catapults, he swept back the attackers after a four-hour
T w o days later occurred the only good fortune which the C hristians
experienced during the whole siege. T hree large G enoese ships and an im
perial tran sp o rt, loaded w ith soldiers and m unitions, gallantly fought their
way to the G olden H o rn through a m osquito fleet of a hundred and fifty small
T urkish ships. T he spirits of the defenders soared high and for a m om ent
they im agined the city was saved. Tw o days later they beheld an extraordinary
and terrifying spectacle: T urkish ships w ere riding in the upper p a rt of the
G olden H o rn despite the heavy boom which still held firm at the m outh.
M oham m ed, probably on the advice of Italian engineers, had constructed a
w ooden runw ay from the B osphorus to a stream called The Springs that
flowed into the G olden H orn. Some seventy or eighty ships were dragged
over the greased planks by oxen, slipped quietly into the stream , and floated
dow n into the h arbor in the rear of the boom .
This stratagem forced the G reeks to stretch their thin lines still fur
th er to m an the m enaced sea wall. M eanw hile the bom bardm ent had con
tinued unabated, and M oham m ed ordered an assault about the R om anus
G ate on M ay 7 and again on M ay 12. B oth were beaten back by G iustiniani
with great slaughter. T hese repeated failures and the constant rum ors th a t a
H ungarian arm y was nearing C onstantinople from the north and the papal
fleet from the south led the T urks to lose heart. M oreover, their overw helm
ing num erical superiority was creating a serious supply problem . Unless they
could win the city by the end of the m onth they would have to abandon the
siege as so m any other arm ies before them had been forced to do in the past.
E ven M oham m ed grew doubtful and, failing to induce the em peror to sur
render the city on term s, he sum m oned a council of w ar on Sunday, M ay 27,
to ascertain the opinions of his generals. T he grand vizir, Khalil Pasha, de
clared in favor of abandoning the siege, w hereupon a general, Zagan Pasha,
replied with a speech th at described perfectly why C onstantinople was even
now a doom ed city despite the heroism of its defenders.
Thou, O Padishah, knowest well the great dissensions that are raging in
Italy especially, and in all Frankistan [Christian Europe] generally. In consequence
of these dissensions the Giaours [infidels] are incapable of united action against us.
The Christian potentates never will unite together. When after protracted efforts
they conclude something like a peace amongst themselves, it never lasts long.
Even when they are bound by treaties of alliance, they are not prevented seizing
territories from each other. They always stand in fear of each other, and are
busily occupied in intriguing against each other. No doubt they think much, speak
much, and explain much, but after all they do very little. When they decide to do
anything, they waste much time before they begin to act. Suppose they have even
commenced something. They cannot progress very far with it because they are sure
to disagree amongst themselves how to proceed. . . . Therefore, O Padishah, do not
lose hope, but give us the order at once to storm the city I J

Conquest of the Balkans: 14031481


M oham m ed was w on over and he ordered a sim ultaneous assault on

the land and sea walls for Tuesday, M ay 29. T he m ain attack was to be in
the Lycus Valley about the R om anus G ate, where the m iddle wall was
practically leveled for a length of four hundred yards and the m oat partly
filled by the debris of the wall and by fascines. The attack was to be pressed
w ithout let or pause, night and day, until the defenders w ere so exhausted
th at the final assault would prevail. M oham m ed further proclaim ed to his
troops th at when the city was captured it would be given up to them to sack
at their will for three days. They received this with tum ultuous shouts of de
light and awaited im patiently the o rder to advance.
Very different was the atm osphere w ithin the doom ed capital. A few
days earlier a small scout ship had slipped into the harbor with the report
th at there were no signs of the prom ised papal fleet. This news shattered the
last hopes of the weary defenders, now reduced to a bare four thousand. In
the m idst of the gloom the em peror m aintained his courage and dignity. A t
the close of a religious procession through the streets he exhorted his people
to rem em ber that they were the descendants of the heroes of ancient Greece
and R om e and to so conduct them selves that their m em ory would be as
glorious as that of their ancestors. O n M onday evening a solem n service was
held in St. Sophia, m em orable as the last C hristian service before its conver
sion into a mosque. O ne who was present w rote, If a man had been made of
wood o r stone, he m ust have w ept at the scene.
In p reparation for the attack the em peror decided to concentrate his
rem aining forces in the enclosures betw een the inner and middle walls. W hen
the men had taken their posts the great gates of the inner wall were closed
and locked. T here was to be no retreat. E ither the T urks would be repulsed
o r the defenders annihilated.
T he attack began betw een one and two oclock T uesday m orning.
First cam e the irregulars, the least skilled of the arm y, to exhaust the strength
and m unitions of the besieged. A fter they had suffered heavy losses M oham
med withdrew them an d sent forth the A natolian infantry. Some broke into
the enclosure but were driven back by the defenders led by G iustiniani. M o
ham m ed now personally led the final attack with the elite of his arm y the
twelve thousand janissaries supported by archers, lancers, and picked infan
trym en. They tore at the stockades, but the defenders fought back stubbornly
and held their ground. A t this crucial m om ent G iustiniani was gravely
w ounded and one of th e gates of the inner wall was opened to allow him to
be carried out. W ith him d eparted some of his G enoese soldiers. This loss
caused confusion and dism ay, which the experienced eye of M oham m ed
quickly perceived. H e shouted to his troops, We have the city! It it ours!
The wall is undefended! T hey rushed the stockade and fought their way into
the enclosure. T he em peror, seeing th at all was lost, threw him self into the
m elee and died fighting. T he G reek and Italian soldiers, trap p ed betw een the
walls, were m assacred to a m an. T he T urks now m ade their way easily
through the undefended inner wall and the prom ised three-day sack began.


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566


In this m om ent of trium ph M oham m ed show ed himself to be a states

m an as well as a conqueror. H ad he so wished he could have destroyed C on
stantinople and m assacred its citizens, as the M ongols had done repeatedly
with even m ore populous cities. This, in fact, would have been in accord with
the precepts of Islam for a city th at had resisted to the end. But after the
three days of merciless pillage and m urder, which was the custom of the time
and probably not as destructive as the handiw ork of the C hristian crusaders
in 1204, M oham m ed firmly restored order. H e had decided to m ake his prize
the capital of his em pire and did not wish to be left with a hollow shell.
H e set about im m ediately to repeople the city, whose num bers for
long had been dwindling during the decline of the em pire. M any citizens who
had fled before and after the siege returned on the prom ise of protection to
their property and religion. T housands were deported en masse from Serbia,
A lbania, and G reece to repeople C onstantinople. T housands more arrived in
the following decades as slaves, prisoners of w ar, religious refugees from
the W est, and voluntary im m igrants attracted by the opportunities in a flour
ishing and expanding capital. T hus the ancient city experienced not extinction
b u t rejuvenation, its im perial borders expanding suddenly from its own b at
tered walls to the D anube R iver and the T aurus M ountains.
M oham m ed was equally farsighted in m atters of religion. The atti
tude expressed in the cry B etter Islam th an the pope had been his powerful
ally in the taking of the city and he wisely resolved to nourish it further. He
selected an em inent G reek clergym an, G ennadius, to be the P atriarch of the
O rthodox C hurch and he assured him all the privileges of your predeces
sors. * H e exem pted the clergy from taxes, allowed the church full auton
om y in its adm inistration, and perm itted religious services to be freely cele
brated. H e even paid repeated visits to the new patriarch, discussed theology
with him , and requested him to write a tract on C hristianity. This toleration,
so far ahead of current practice in W estern C hristendom , was not youthful
rom anticism but enlightened statesm anship. By satisfying the religious as
pirations of his non-M oslem subjects he h ad perpetuated the schism betw een
W estern and E astern C hristianity and assured him self the stable rear neces
sary for the furth er conquests he planned.
T he fall of C onstantinople shocked C hristian E urope, particularly
since M oham m ed had been considered a w eakling because he had perm itted
his father to depose him. A chorus of lam entation arose in the W est, even
though little h ad been done to avert the loss. M any schem es for driving the
infidel back to A sia were p ro pounded during the following decades. C on
stantinople and G reece now took the place of Jerusalem and the Holy L and
as the objectives of the proposed crusades. Successive popes sought to arouse
* See Chapter 7 for a discussion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople under the
Ottoman Empire.

Conquest of the Balkans: 14031481


C hristendom , and a series of diets or congresses m et to organize expeditions,

but all to no avail. By the mid-fifteenth century the state of E u ropean society
no longer was propitious for a revival of the crusades. Pope Pius II realisti
cally depicted the contem porary C hristian world in his well-known letter
w ritten in 1454:
People neither give to the Pope what is the Popes, nor to the Emperor
what is the Emperors. Respect and obedience are nowhere to be found. Pope
and Emperor are considered as nothing but proud titles and splendid figureheads.
Each State has its particular Prince, and each Prince his particular interest. What
eloquence could avail to unite so many discordant and hostile powers under one
banner? And if they were assembled in arms, who would venture to assume the
general command? What tactics are to be followed? What discipline is to prevail?
How is obedience to be secured? Who is to be the shepherd of this flock of nations?
Who understands the many utterly different languages, and is able to control and
guide the varying manners and characters? What mortal could reconcile the Eng
lish with the French, the Genoese with the men of Aragon? If a small number go
to the Holy War they will be overpowered by the infidel, and if great hosts pro
ceed together, their own hatred and confusions will be their ruin. There is diffi
culty everywhere. Only look at the state of Christendom.3
Some W esterners hoped th a t the possession of the great im perial
prize would satisfy and preoccupy the youthful sultan and turn his thoughts
from further conquests. T his was soon proved to be an illusion. M oham m ed
considered the taking of C onstantinople the beginning rather than the end of
his career. H e viewed him self the heir of B yzantium and he resolved to re
claim w hat Byzantium had possessed in its prim e and lost in its decline. T he
princes of Serbia, Bosnia, and the Peloponnesus had hastily offered their
subm ission to him following the capture of C onstantinople. B ut M oham m ed
was not content with this prevailing system of vassal states paying tribute and
retaining their autonom y. He decided upon the com plete and direct subjection
of the entire B alkan Peninsula, and after that, he would deal with the E u ro
pean pow ers th at had poached upon the preserve of declining Byzantium.

B ulgaria h ad been incorporated as a province of the O ttom an E m
pire half a century earlier, and M oham m ed now set out to reduce Serbia to
a sim ilar status. Before the siege of C onstantinople he had hum ored the
Serbian prince, G eorge B rankovich, and assured him his autonom ous status,
b u t now M oham m ed claim ed the country through his stepm other, a Serbian
princess. N o sooner had he set siege to some Serbian fortresses than the
H ungarians, alarm ed for their own safety, cam e to the aid of the Serbs. John
H unyadi, the veteran enem y of the T urks, renew ed his raids into the central
B alkans, using Belgrade as his base. In June, 1456, M oham m ed gathered
his arm y and d read artillery before B elgrade, boasting th a t w ithin a fortnight
the town would be his. But H unyadi, with the assistance of a fiery Franciscan


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

friar, Jo h n of C apistrano, led an arm y of peasant crusaders through the T u rk

ish lines into the beleaguered city. N ot only did they repulse the repeated
assaults but, in a bold sortie, they charged to the m ouths of the enem y can
non and broke the T urkish lines. M oham m ed himself was w ounded in the
struggle and retreated in disorder to Sofia. Pestilence now broke out in the
H ungarian cam p, taking the lives of both H unyadi and C apistrano and p re
venting the victors from following u p their advantage. Belgrade was saved
for H ungary but Serbia was doom ed. T he aged Prince B rankovich died late
in 1456 and the ensuing dynastic strife, com plicated by C atholic-O rthodox
rivalry, left the country open to the O ttom ans. By the sum m er of 1459 all
Serbia, excepting Belgrade, h ad becom e a T urkish pashalik.
T o the west of Serbia lay two other Slavic kingdom s, B osnia and
H erzegovina, which now attracted the attention of M oham m ed. The Slavic
tribes th a t had settled in these territories were constantly pressed by powerful
neighboring states H ungary, C roatia, Venice, and Serbia. O ccasionally the
B osnians and H erzegovinians had been able to win a few years of independ
ent existence. M ore frequently they were forced to acecpt the suzerainty of
one or another of their neighbors. A nother im portant factor in the history of
these peoples was the prolonged conflict over religion. Being situated on the
frontier between O rthodox and Catholic C hristianity, the Bosnians and H erze
govinians were to rn betw een the two creeds. In contrast to the Serbs, who
were located in the central B alkans and were solidly O rthodox, the people of
Bosnia-H erzegovina never allied them selves perm anently with either the
pope or the patriarch. M any of them , instead, becam e ardent Bogomils. W e
have seen that Bogomilism was not only a heresy akin to th at of the Albigensians in the W est and the Paulicans in the E ast, but also a revolutionary
m ovem ent of social protest. H ence the fierce persecution to which the Bogo
mils w ere subjected by both the W estern and E astern churches. In 1325 Pope
Jo h n X X II w rote thus to the king of Bosnia:
To our beloved son and nobleman, Stephen, Prince of. Bosnia, knowing
that thou art a faithful son of the Church, we therefore charge thee to exter
minate the heretics in thy dominion, and to render aid and assistance to Fabian,
our Inquisitor, forasmuch as a large multitude of heretics from many and divers
parts collected hath flowed together into the principality of Bosnia, trusting there
to sow their obscene errors and dwell there in safety. These men, imbued with
the cunning of the Old Fiend, and armed with the venom of their falseness, cor
rupt the minds of Catholics by outward show of simplicity and the sham assump
tion of the name of Christians; their speech crawleth like a crab, and they creep
in with humility, but in secret they kill, and are wolves in sheeps clothing, cover
ing their bestial fury as a means to deceive the simple sheep of Christ.4
T he B osnian rulers enforced the p opes injunction to the full. Forty
thousand Bogomils fled from Bosnia to neighboring countries, and others
who did not succeed in m aking their escape were sent in chains to Rom e.
B ut this violent persecution did little to dim inish the strength of the heretics.
Instead, it caused them to look for relief to the T urks, especially since the

Conquest of the Balkans: 1403-1481


latter proclaim ed them selves the cham pions of the poor as against the native
B alkan aristocracy which they consistently and ruthlessly exterm inated. In a
letter w ritten in 1463 by Stephen, the last king of Bosnia, to Pope Pius II,
we find these rem arkable w ords: T he T urks prom ise freedom to all who
side with them , and the rough m ind of the peasants does not understand the
artfulness of such a prom ise, and believes th at such freedom will last forever;
and so it may h appen th at the misguided com m on people m ay tu rn away
from me, unless they see th a t I am supported by you. W hen M oham m ed
did invade Bosnia, S tephens fears proved all too justified. T he B osnian peas
antry refused to take up arm s against the T urks, saying, It is not our busi
ness to defend the king; let the nobles do it. 5 By the end of 1463 Bosnia had
becom e another O ttom an dom inion an d tw enty years later the same fate be
fell Herzegovina.
This conflict of religions is im portant in explaining not only the easy
trium ph of the T urks but also the later history of the South Slavs. W ith the
establishm ent of O ttom an rule the m ajority of the peasants accepted Islam.
C ontem porary travelers alm ost invariably rem arked th at about three fourths
of the population of B osnia-H erzegovina was M oslem and the rem ainder
Catholic o r O rthodox. T he Slav nobles also accepted conversion as a m eans
of retaining their lands and feudal privileges. T hus Bosnia-H erzegovina, in
contrast to Serbia, presents the curious phenom enon of a ruling landholder
class, Slav by race yet M oslem by religion. These landholders, or beys, b e
cam e in the course of generations m ore fanatical than the T urks themselves.
T he peasants, as we shall see later, becam e predom inantly O rthodox during
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while their nobles rem ained aggres
sively M oslem. This explains why the Serbian nationalist aw akening in the
nineteenth century could develop only in Serbia pro p er where the population,
being solidly peasant and O rthodox, had both social and religious unity. In
contrast, Bosnia-H erzegovina, with its M oslem Slav ruling caste and its C hris
tian Slav peasantry, rem ained a stronghold of T urkish pow er long after Serbia
had regained its freedom .
R eturning to the days of M oham m ed, we find him next in another
Serbian land, where a totally different reception aw aited him. Serbia, Bosnia,
and H erzegovina had fallen, b u t M ontenegro, a barren and m ountainous n a t
ural fortress, successfully defied the M oslem hosts in this dark hour of Serbian
history. Stephen C rnojevich, the founder of M ontenegro, had spent his life
defending his country against M oham m eds father, M urad. His son, Ivan the
Black, continued the struggle with indom itable spirit. W hen his position be
cam e impossible with the fall of Bosnia in the north and A lbania in the south,
he w ent up to lofty Cetinje, which thereafter rem ained the capital of his peo
ple. T here, he and his descendants established a tiny m ountain com m onw ealth
which the T urks often invaded "but never perm anently conquered.
In A lbania, also, M oham m ed m et with a resistance typical of a united
m ountain people. A lbania in the preceding century had form ed a p a rt of
D ushans Serbian em pire. U pon his death in 1355 all central authority dis


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

appeared and the country fell under the control of local chieftains. A t the
sam e tim e a feudal social system was developing, particularly in the coastal
areas. In fact, serf revolts broke out in 1343 and 1351 because of the heavy
exactions of the lords. B ut this social cleavage was not so w idespread and
acute as to leave the country divided w hen the Turkish invaders appeared.
O n the contrary, a rem arkable unity and steadfastness was shown under the
inspired leadership of the fam ous chieftain, George K astriotis, popularly
know n as Skanderbeg.
Skanderbeg organized in 1444 a League of A lbanian Princes which
pooled resources and m anpow er for the resistance struggle. W ith this support
Skanderbeg built fortresses throughout the countryside and also organized an
extrem ely mobile defense force. W hen the T urks attacked they found it nec
essary to disperse their troops because of the scattered fortresses. This left
them vulnerable to the hit-and-run tactics of the A lbanians, who could move
m ore swiftly about the m ountainous terrain than the m ore heavily arm ed
T urks. Skanderbeg also received some assistance from Venice, Naples, and
the Papacy. T hus he was able to repulse thirteen invasions between the years
1444 and 1466. Only after his death in 1468 w ere the T urks able to conquer
A lbania. In the following centuries the m ajority of the A lbanians accepted
Islam and, together with the Bosnian M oslems, they becam e the bulw ark of
Turkish pow er in the w estern Balkans.
In G reece there was neither the leadership nor the will to resist. The
D uchy of A thens, which was held by a Florentine m erchant family, surren
dered to the T urks in 1456. T he ancient P arthenon, originally a pagan tem
ple and later the C hurch of the Holy V irgin, now was turned into a mosque.
F u rth er to the south, in the Peloponnesus, u tter anarchy prevailed. T hom as
and D em etrius, the w orthless brothers of the gallant E m peror Constantine,
were heedlessly fighting each oth er for suprem acy. Thus M oham m eds army
m et with little opposition as it passed through the Peloponnesus, besieging and
capturing the petty strongholds. By 1460 the sultan possessed the whole area
with the exception of a few seaports in the hands of the V enetians. T he last
spark of G reek independence had passed away, and for alm ost half a millenium the sons of the ancient Hellenes were to rem ain under the rule of the
T urk.
It rem ains to speak of the fate of the R um anian C hristians at the
oth er extrem e of the B alkan Peninsula. In C hapter 2 we saw th at in the four
teenth century they had organized the Principalities of M oldavia and W al
lachia and m aintained a precarious autonom y against their aggressive neigh
bors, the H ungarians in the west and the T urks in the south. M ircea, the
prince of W allachia, had participated in the battles of K osovo and Nicopolis,
and following these disastrous defeats, was forced to accept Turkish suze
rainty. This arrangem ent was unsatisfactory to M oham m ed for strategic
reasons. So long as he did not firmly control the Principalities, his em pire
rem ained open to invasion from H ungary through T ransylvania and W al
lachia, o r from Poland through M oldavia. F urtherm ore, an aggressive W al-

Conquest of the Balkans: 1403-1481


lachian prince, V lad IV , had com e to pow er in 1456 and refused to pay the
custom ary tribute. A fter a fierce struggle, in which the T urkish arm ies suf
fered several defeats, M oham m ed was able to install a ruler who could be
depended upon to heed his wishes.
This procedure was repeated in M oldavia w here, some years later,
an outstanding ruler, Stephen the G reat, defied M oham m ed by invading
W allachia and dethroning its vassal prince. W hen the Turkish arm ies re
taliated, Stephen resisted stoutly and held his ground. He realized, however,
that he could not hold out indefinitely and, having failed to enlist the sup
port of the neighboring C hristian states, he advised his son to subm it to the
O ttom an pow er. This was done upon the accession of M oham m eds suc
cessor in 1512, and henceforth the R um anians of both principalities were
definitely under T urkish control. T hey were allowed, however, m ore freedom
than the C hristians to the south of the D anube, including the privilege of
electing their own princes. This privilege, however, was later w ithdraw n, as
will be shown in C hap ter 7.
M oham m ed was now the m aster of the Balkans from the Black Sea
to the A driatic and from the C arpathians to the southern tip of G reece. The
only exceptions were the independent principality of M ontenegro; the cityrepublic of Ragusa (D u b ro v n ik ), which was autonom ous though tributary
to the sultan; the provinces of Slovenia and C roatia, which w ere under the
H apsburgs and H ungarians, respectively; and a num ber of ports in D alm atia,
A lbania, and G reece which the V enetians controlled together with several
islands in the eastern M editerranean. These V enetian possessions represented
the only significant challenge to O ttom an hegem ony in the Balkans. Having
been wrested from declining Byzantium they were now coveted by B yzan
tium s vigorous successor.
F o r M oham m ed, it was not a case of w ar for the sake of w ar, o r of
barbaric disregard for the benefits of trade. Im m ediately after the capture of
C onstantinople he had confirm ed the vast trading privileges which the V ene
tians and G enoese had enjoyed u nder the Byzantine em perors. Thus, w hen
he reached out for the string of V enetian ports and islands, his concern was
for the balance of pow er in the B alkans and the eastern M editerranean. The
disappearance of B yzantium brought the expanding O ttom an land power into
alm ost inevitable conflict with the intrenched V enetian sea pow er, in the same
m anner th at centuries later the disintegration of the O ttom an E m pire was to
set tsarist R ussia against im perial B ritain.
T he w ar with V enice began in 1463 and dragged out its course for
sixteen w eary years. T here w ere no decisive battles because the V enetians
dared not com e to grips with the pow erful O ttom an fleets. M oham m ed be
sieged and captured the V enetian outposts one after the other, while Venice
struck back by raiding the A natolian coasts and inducing the A lbanians and
the Persians to attack the T urks. T hese diversions proved inadequate and in


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

1470 M oham m ed captured the strategic island N egroponte o r E uboea, off

the eastern coast of G reece. In the following years he w iped out the V enetian
outposts in A lbania and sent raiders to the very outskirts of Venice. Deeply
discouraged by these losses and by the failure of W estern E urope to provide
assistance, the V enetians sued for peace in 1479. T hey surrendered several
stations in A lbania, the N egroponte and L em nos Islands in the Aegean, and
agreed to pay annually the sum of ten thousand ducats for the privilege of
resum ing their com m erce in the Levant.
T he end of the V enetian w ar left M oham m ed free to launch two new
naval expeditions in the following year. T he first landed an arm y in Italy
itself, w here it storm ed the city of O tran to and laid waste the surrounding
countryside. T he second set siege to R hodes, the island fortress of the Knights
of St. John, who for years had harassed T urkish com m unications in the
A egean. T he heroic defense of the knights inflicted upon the T urks a setback
rem iniscent of their defeat before Belgrade years earlier. M oham m eds death
the following year relieved both R hodes and N aples, and ended w hat ap
p eared to be a carefully planned cam paign for the conquest of all Italy.

5. Ottoman Empire at Its Height: 1 4 8 1 -1 5 6 6

J L h e c o n q u e s t s o f M o h a m m e d had left the O ttom an

E m pire as m uch E uropean as Asiatic. M oham m eds grandson, Selim I, altered
the balance by overrunning Syria and Egypt and extending the O ttom an E m
pire to the Nile and M esopotam ian valleys. Selims son and successor, Sulei
m an the M agnificent, renew ed the w estw ard expansion at the expense of
C hristendom . He thru st the O ttom an frontiers deep into the heart of E urope,
conquering H ungary and besieging V ienna itself. A t the same tim e Suleim ans
arm ies fought against the Persians in the E ast while his fleets engaged the
Portuguese in the Indian O cean and the V enetians and the H apsburgs in the
M editerranean. It was under Suleim an th at the O ttom an E m pire reached the
dazzling height of its fortunes. T he O tto m an leaders were all too aw are of
their pre-em inence, considering them selves infinitely superior to the infidels
of the W est. O ne of Suleim ans vizirs haughtily addressed a C hristian envoy
on a state occasion as follows: Do you not know th at our M aster is like the
sun and that, as the sun rules the heavens, so he rules the earth . 1

The brilliant reign of M oham m ed was followed by the prosaic rule
of Bayezid II (1 4 8 1 1 5 1 2 ), the least significant of the first ten sultans of the
O ttom an dynasty. T he tw o outstanding events of his reign were the m anner
of his accession and the successful w ar with Venice which consolidated the
O ttom an control of the Balkans.
Bayezids accession was com plicated by the fact th a t no custom or
law defined a fixed line of succession. T he practice, rather, was for the reign
ing sultan to decide which of his sons should follow him, and then to ap
point him to a strategic post n ear the capital. In o rder to avoid civil w ar
M oham m ed had extended legal sanction and even com pulsion to the practice
of fratricide adopted by m any earlier rulers.
. . w hoever am ong my illus67

Ottoman Empire at Its Height: 1481-1566


trious children and grandchildren may com e to the th ro n e, he decreed,

should, for securing the peace of the world, order his brothers to be exe
cuted. L et them h ereafter act accordingly. 2 This D raconian law was en
forced for well over a century, as the num erous little coffins in the royal
m ausoleum s b ear tragic witness. A lthough it prevented in definitive fashion
the protracted dynastic w ars com m on in W estern E urope at the time, it also
created a situation of unstable equilibrium as soon as the sons of a sultan
began to grow up. E ach knew th at he m ust either seize the throne or follow
his father to the grave.
In the case of M oham m ed it appears th at he had decided in favor of
his younger son, Jem , who was a m ore forceful and attractive personality th an
the sober Bayezid. T he latter, however, was the first to arrive in C onstanti
nople, w here he found that the janissaries had instituted a reign of terror,
having m urdered the grand vizir and plundered the houses of C hristians and
Jews. The janissaries greeted Bayezid by asking forgiveness for their excesses,
but they asked for it in battle array, and accom panied their petition by a de
m and for an increase of pay and a large present on their new sovereigns
accession. Bayezid com plied, and thus he was able with janissary support to
defeat his brother. B ut a precedent had been established, and henceforth the
distribution of large sums of m oney upon every accession was expected and
always forthcom ing.
The w ar with V enice ( 1 4 9 9 - 1 5D3) broke out partly because of the
num erous incidents th at occurred betw een the V enetian m aritim e em pire and
the O ttom an land pow er all along the line from Istria to Rhodes. A nother
cause was V enices acquisition by bequest in 1489 of the strategic island of
Cyprus. Bayezid wished to develop T urkish sea pow er and therefore resolved
to prevent C yprus from becom ing a new and pow erful V enetian base in the
T he course of the w ar dem onstrated the decline of V enice and the
rise of Turkey as a naval power. T he O ttom an fleet of three hundred ships
included vessels of eighteen hundred tons at that tim e the largest in the
world. T he fleet was com m anded by K emal Reis, a seam an of probably
G reek origin who becam e the first great adm iral of the T urks. He had dis
tinguished him self in 1483 when he ravaged the coasts of Spain in support of
the hard-pressed M oors of G ranada. In this w ar with V enice he w on a hardfought battle of L ep an to in 1499, and in the following year he held his own
against the com bined fleets of Venice, Spain, and the Papacy. O n land the
T urks captured L epanto, M odon, and K oron in the Peloponnesus, while ten
thousand of their horsem en raided V enetian territory as far as Vicenza.
These defeats forced V enice to sign a treaty in which she ceded the stations
she had lost, though she still k ept N auplion in G reece and some of the
Ionian Islands, as well as C yprus and C rete. D espite these possessions Venice
no longer was the dom inant pow er in the Levant. This w ar m arked the begin
ning of the O ttom an suprem acy in the eastern M ed iterranean th at was to last
for alm ost three hundred years. T he sea approaches to the B alkan Peninsula


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

were now under T urkish control, and a few decades later Suleim an the M ag
nificent was to lead his arm ies across the D anube into the heart of E urope
w ithout fear of a rear attack from the south.

B ayezids son and successor, Selim I (1 5 1 2 -1 5 2 0 ), stands out in
O tto m an history as the conqueror of Syria and Egypt. T he details of his
audacious cam paigns do not concern us here because they did not directly
affect the Balkans. Suffice it to note th a t a com bination of dynastic and re
ligious factors em broiled him in a w ar w ith the powerful Shah Ism ail of P er
sia. Selim em erged victorious, w hereupon the M am eluke ruler of E gypt and
Syria aligned himself with the shah in order to redress the balance of pow er
in the N ear E ast. Selim retaliated with his custom ary im petuosity. In a
w hirlw ind cam paign he invaded Syria, defeated and killed the M am eluke Sul
ta n K ansuh in the battle of M arj-D abik (A ugust 23, 1 5 1 6 ), and trium phantly
entered C airo on Jan u ary 30, 1517.
A t this point it is w orth pausing to consider the relationship betw een
Selim s conquests and the im mensely significant shift th at was now occurring
in E ast-W est trade routes. F o r centuries spices and other com m odities th at
A sia supplied to E urope had been funneled mostly through the M am eluke
ports in Syria and Egypt, where they were purchased by V enetians and other
Italian m iddlem en for resale th roughout W estern E urope. This transit trade
becam e the lifeblood of the M am eluke econom y, providing not only govern
m ent revenue in the form of custom s duties, but also a source of livelihood
for thousands of m erchants, clerks, sailors, shipbuilders, cam el drivers, steve
dores, and all the rest who were directly or indirectly connected with the
trade. C ertainly this com m erce was in large part responsible for the great
w ealth and high culture of the M am eluke Em pire.
Suddenly this flourishing em pire was struck in its vitals when V asco
da G am a sailed into C alicut H arbor, India, on M ay 22, 1498, ten m onths
after leaving Portugal. A t last the W estern E uropeans had direct access to
fabulous Ind ia and to the coveted spice islands of the E ast Indies. Lengthy
as the voyage was on the all-w ater ro ad around the C ape of G ood H ope, it
still was infinitely m ore econom ical th an the old course through the M am e
luke ports in the eastern M editerranean. T he latter route involved several
loadings and unloadings to traverse the land barrier separating A lexandria
from the R ed Sea, and the Syrian ports from the Persian Gulf. A lso, there
were custom s duties to be paid at several points along the route, as well as
B edouin m arauders who had to be placated by m oney or wares or both. This
com bination of high transp o rtatio n costs, custom s dues, and outright extor
tions raised the price of spices in A lexandria to m ore than 2,000 per cent
above their original cost in India. A nd there still rem ained the Italian m er
chants to levy their far from m odest charges before the goods finally reached
the consum er in France or E ngland or G erm any. It is n o t surprising, then, to

Ottoman Empire at Its Height: 1481-1566


find th at in the four years 15021505, the V enetians were able to obtain an
average of only 1,000,000 English pounds of spices a year at A lexandria,
w hereas in the last years of the fifteenth century they had averaged 3,500,000
pounds. Conversely, Portuguese im ports rose from 224,000 pounds in 1501
to an average of 2 ,300,000 pounds in the four years 1 5 0 3 -1 5 0 6 .3
T he T urks frequently are held responsible for this shift in the trade
routes. A ccording to this theory Selim conquered Syria and E gypt and then
proceeded to interfere with the flow of spices through those countries to such
an extent that W estern E urope suffered a serious shortage. H ence the efforts
of the Portuguese captains to find a direct route to the F a r E ast, culm inating
in the successful voyage of V asco da G am a around the C ape of G ood H ope.
This reasoning is palpably incorrect because, as we have seen, G am a reached
C alicut in 1498; Selim overran Syria and Egypt eighteen years later in 1516
1517. N ot only did the T urks have nothing to do with the appearance of the
Portuguese in the Indian O cean; on the contrary, they m ade every effort to
drive the Portuguese out in order to revive the prosperity of their newly won
Syrian and Egyptian possessions.
Selim did not live long enough to turn his attention to the P o rtu
guese, but Suleim an sent several naval expeditions to the Indian O cean to
clear out the interlopers. T hese efforts all proved ineffective. T he T urks and
their Levantine subjects were at hom e in the M editerranean, but in the In
dian Ocean they were no m atch for the Portuguese seam ean, trained in the
school of H enry the N avigator, and tested on the long voyage around A frica.
The failure of the T urks had far-reaching repercussions for the en
tire N ear East. It m arked the beginning of the end of Levantine predom inance
in world com m erce. T he stress should be on the word beginning. T he old
routes did not disappear overnight. A fter the lirst shock of the Portuguese
intrusion a gradual recovery occurred. T here even were years when the vol
ume of trade through the L evantine ports surpassed that which rounded the
Cape. In fact, it can be said that throughout the sixteenth century both routes
were used, with now the one prevailing and now the other. T he survival of
the old channels is surprising in view of the natural advantages of the all
w ater route. T he explanation seems to have been the excessively high rates
set by the Portuguese and the corruption of Portuguese officials, who were
willing for a consideration to perm it cargoes to enter the R ed Sea and the
P ersian Gulf. It was n o t until some tim e in the seventeenth century, after the
penetratio n of the m ore efficient D utchm en into the F ar E ast, th at the balance
swung decisively in favor of the C ape route. Only then did the Levantine
ports sink into th at insignificance and obscurity out of which they were not
to emerge until the late nineteenth century.
This shifting of trad e routes, gradual though it was, m arked the be
ginning of a changing relationship betw een W estern E urope and the N ear
E ast, and indeed betw een W estern E u ro p e and the rest of the world. A t a
tim e when the T urks w ere steadily advancing from the B alkans into C entral
E urope, the Portuguese were outflanking the entire M oslem world by open


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

ing the sea route to India. In 1498 O tto m an advance guards w ere pushing
into V enetia but in the sam e year V asco da G am a landed at Calicut. In 1503
V enice lost M odon, K oron, and L ep an to to the T urks, but in 1509 the P or
tuguese destroyed an E gyptian fleet th at h ad been sent to drive them out of
the Indian O cean. T hus at the tim e w hen the strongest M oslem state was
spearheading ever deeper into C entral E urope, the W esterners were executing
a vast outflanking m ovem ent and attacking the M oslem world in its soft
underbelly. This developm ent not only had im portant strategic im plications
but also involved infinitely m ore significant econom ic and political repercus
sions. It dealt a severe blow to the econom ic developm ent of the N ear E ast,
it opened up vast new vistas for the W estern world, and it cleared the way for
E uropean econom ic penteration of the vast A sian continent, which in turn
led eventually to a political dom ination that was to prevail until the tw en
tieth century.
Selim left behind him only one son, Suleim an, surnam ed by C hristian
w riters the M agnificent, and by his own people El K anuni o r the Legis
lato r. Suleim an occupies a position in his countrys history com parable to
th at of L ouis X IV in France. During his long reign (1 5 2 0 -1 5 6 6 ) he added
enorm ously to his em pire. Belgrade, R hodes, nearly the whole of H ungary,
the C rim ea, great parts of M esopotam ia and A rm enia taken from Persia,
Y em en and A den in the A rabian Peninsula, a wide extension of Egypt in the
direction of N ubia, and the coast of N orth A frica from Egypt alm ost to the
A tlantic these were the contributions th at he bequeathed to his successors.
Suleim ans talents and unceasing labors were in p art responsible for his suc
cesses. Also, he had the good fortune to appear on the historical stage at
precisely the right m om ent: following the great contributions of M oham m ed
II and Selim, and preceding the m any sym ptom s of decay th at were to be
com e so evident by the end of the century. Finally, Suleim an had the ability
to select gifted advisers and the sense to keep them in office as long as they
were useful. His first vizir and great favorite, the G reek Ibrahim , served from
1523 to 1536; after him cam e the Bulgarian Rustem from 1544 to 1553 and
1555 to 1561; and finally the Bosnian Sokolli (S okolovich), from 1565 to
1579. Suleim an delegated authority to all these m en to an unprecedented
degree. In effect, they w ere vice-sultans with unlim ited pow ers so long as they
enjoyed their m asters confidence. This system w orked well with a strong
ruler like Suleim an, who knew how to control his advisers as well as to select
them . H is w eak successors could do neither, thereby depriving the em pire of
th at unity and decisive leadership th at had been the envy and despair of
the W estern powers.
Suleim an first turned his attention to the northw estern frontier along
the D anube. T here the H ungarians still held Belgrade and other strategic
fortresses, b u t their grip was weakening. N o longer were they able to fulfill
their traditio n al role of C hristendom s bulw ark against Islam . T heir king,

Ottoman Empire at Its Height: 1481-1566


Louis II, who was also ruler of Bohem ia, was a dissolute youngster and was
regarded by all his subjects as a foreigner because of his Polish descent. Be
sides, the H ungarians were w eakened by religious dissension betw een C ath
olics and L utherans, and by a deep social cleavage betw een the nobility and
the landless peasantry. Finally, there was the added distraction of the H u n
garian n ationalist, party which dem anded a native dynasty for H ungary.
Its leader was John Zapolya, a T ransylvanian m agnate who cherished p er
sonal am bitions concerning the proposed native dynasty and who was to ally
him self with Suleim an when these am bitions were frustrated.
It is to these circum stances th at we m ust attribute the astonishing fact
that when Suleiman reached the D anube he found no arm y, w hether H u n
garian or Bohem ian, to oppose his advance. He had to deal only with the
garrisons of the tow ns he besieged, their governors having appealed in vain
for relief from B uda or Prague. T hus Suleim an was able in the sum m er of
1521 to reduce w ithout distraction several H ungarian fortresses on the D an
ube and the Sava. T hen he surrounded Belgrade itself, and on A ugust 29 the
city that had defied so m any T urkish arm ies in the past accepted his liberal
term s for surrender.
F rom Belgrade, Suleim an turned to Rhodes, the island fortress of the
Knights of St. John. R hodes at this tim e was probably the m ost strongly
fortified position in the world. Having repulsed M oham m ed II forty years
earlier, the grand m asters of the island had lived ever since in constant fear
of a new attack. All the spare funds available from the o rd ers com m anderies
throughout E urope had gone into stone and m ortar. T he defenses were of
the m ost m odern style, specially designed to w ithstand artillery lire, and
m anned by a resolute force of about six thousand men. These precautions
now proved fully justified. Suleim an was determ ined to destroy the strong
hold th at sheltered a swarm of C hristian pirates who preyed on Turkish
shipping. A nd W estern E urope was too engrossed in the F rench-H apsburg
w ar to offer any aid.
T he siege began on July 28, 1522. W eek after week Suleim an pressed
the siege, using every m eans at his com m and: artillery fire, underground
mines, and constant assaults. It was not until late D ecem ber that the grand
m aster agreed to surrender, and even then it was shortage of am m unition
th at decided the issue. Suleim ans term s were generous: the knights were
to be free to leave the island with all their personal property, while the native
inhabitants were to be relieved of taxes for five years and were to enjoy free
exercise of their religion. So ended the last outpost of m ilitant Christendom
in the eastern M editerranean.
Suleim an h ad captured the two outposts of C hristendom th at had
defied the conqueror of C onstantinople. But in doing so he had not accom
plished som ething original or unexpected. H e was m erely following in the
footsteps of his predecessors and com pleting their work. A t this point oc
curred an incident that changed com pletely T urkeys position in E urope and
started a new era in the history of O ttom an relations with the West.


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566


P rio r to this tim e T urkey had not been regarded as a m em ber of the
E u ro p ean fam ily of nations. T he medieval idea of the solidarity of C hristian
E urope precluded acceptance of a M oslem em pire. R ather, C hristian princes
were expected to propagate the true faith and to exterm inate the enem ies of
Christendom . H ence the long series of C rusades against the M oslems of the
Holy L and and later against the T urks after they had overrun the C hristian
Balkans. B ut by the fifteenth century this crusading spirit had evaporated.
Both the H ungarians at Belgrade and the Knights of St. John at Rhodes dis
covered this when they begged the C hristian m onarchs for aid against Sulei
m an. A m ore dram atic dem onstration of this drift away from C hristian unity
was the appeal th a t Suleim an received in D ecem ber, 1525, from Francis I,
the king of France. T he appeal was for a T urkish attack upon the Holy
R o m an E m peror and head of the H ouse of H apsburg, Charles V! A nd this
was from the Eldest Son of the C hurch from the king of the country with
the m ost glorious crusading traditions!
T he explanation is to be found partly in the influence of certain new
forces th a t had gradually transform ed the m edieval w orld and shattered its
unity. T he m ost im portant of these were hum anist concepts, dynastic inter
ests, nationalist considerations, and the P rotestant R eform ation. A nother
factor th a t exerted a m ore im m ediate influence in the sixteenth century was
the overw helm ing increase in H apsburg pow er and territorial possessions. A t
the tim e when Selim was conquering Syria and Egypt, all the accum ulated
heritages of Spain, A ustria, and B urgundy, together with the crow n of the
H oly R om an E m pire, w ere falling into the lap of Charles V. The only serious
rival of the H apsburgs was the king of F rance, but he was taken prisoner by
the victorious em peror at the battle of Pavia in 1525. Francis looked around
in desperation for a pow er strong enough to restore the balance in Europe.
T here was only one possibility, the O ttom an Em pire. H ence the appeal to
Suleim an and the beginning of th at cooperation betw een Turkey and France
th a t was to last for nearly three centuries. This relationship was denounced
at the time as the im pious alliance and the sacrilegious union of the Lily
and the C rescent. B ut it continued nonetheless, for it was as m uch to the
interest of Suleim an, as of Francis, to put a stop to H apsburg expansion. T hus
the O ttom an Em pire becam e an accepted and active participant in E uropean
affairs, and rem ained so until its disintegration four centuries later. Francis,
it should be noted, played a double gam e throughout his reign. H e posed as
an eager defender of C hristendom when that seemed advisable; yet he re
m ained secretly allied to Suleiman, whose interests, however, he never hesi
tated to sacrifice when it was profitable to do so.
Suleim an responded to F ran cis appeal for aid by crossing the D anube
in 1526 and overrunning H ungary. T he invasion was calculated to ease the
pressure on F rancis and at the sam e tim e to satisfy the janlssm ii s. who were

Ottoman Empire at Its Height: 1481-1566


openly rebellious after four years of inactivity. T he H ungarians, on their part,

were in no better condition to resist the T urks at this tim e th an in 1521. T he
same internal cleavages still divided them , while the loss of Belgrade and of
the other fortresses m ade defense m ore difficult.
T here was little likelihood of assistance from the outside to bolster
the H ungarians. P oland had just concluded a peace settlem ent w ith the Turks,
V enice had been able to obtain a favorable com m ercial treaty in 1521 and
now was unwilling to risk losing its benefits. In fact, V enice congratulated
Suleim an on the capture of R hodes. T he pope, although anxious to stem the
advance of Islam , was able to contribute only lim ited funds. T here rem ained
only the two H apsburg rulers, E m p ero r C harles and his brother F erdinand,
who ruled the A ustrian dom ains. B oth m en h ad a personal interest in sup
porting H ungary, C harles because of his position as tem poral head of C hris
tendom , and F erd in an d because King L ouis was his brother-in-law , and,
m ore im portant, because the fall of H ungary would bring Suleim ans arm ies
to the A ustrian frontier. Y et neither C harles n o r F erdinand was able to con
tribute much, thanks to the m ultitude of pressures and crises th at were ever
arising in their spraw ling em pire.
E m peror C harless policy was first to restore C hristendom s unity
within a new H oly R om an E m pire and then to turn against the infidel Turks.
B ut pow erful interests in C hristendom w ere unwilling to accept unification
under H apsburg aegis. A t this very m om ent, for exam ple, F rance, the Papacy,
and the Italian states were com bined in the pow erful League of Cognac to
drive the H apsburgs out of Italy. T hus C harles was constantly preoccupied
by the opposition of his C hristian rivals and was unable to send significant
forces to the East.
Likewise in G erm any there was great reluctance to give aid to the
H ungarians because it was generally believed that the T urkish danger was
exaggerated. O therw ise, it was asked, why did not C harles aid King L ouis of
H ungary who was his own cousin? F urth erm o re the R om anists and the
L utherans in G erm any were at each o th ers throats. In fact, the L utherans
opposed any efforts against the T u rk s because they m ight redound to the
advantage of the Papacy. L u th er w ent so far as to say, T o fight the T urks
is to resist the judgm ent of G od upon m ens sins. 4 U nder these circum
stances the G erm an D iet th at m et in the sum m er of 1526 refused to vote aid
to H ungary until th e religious issues h ad been settled. Finally F erdinand
prom ised th a t a conciliar council w ould m eet w ithin eighteen m onths to
consider church reform , and th a t in the interval everyone would live, act,
and rule their subjects in such wise as each one thought right before G od
and his Im perial M ajesty. 5 H aving obtained w hat it w anted, the D iet voted
2 4,000 m en for the defense of H ungary and then adjourned on A ugust 27.
F o u r days later the H ungarians suffered fatal defeat at M ohacs.
Suleiman had set out from C onstantinople at the head of his arm y
in A pril, 1526. By the end of July he had storm ed the fortress of P eterw ardein on the south bank of the D anube. He continued his m arch along the
river until lie reached the junction of the D rava and the D anube in mid-


Age o) Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

A ugust. H ere he expected to find the H ungarians draw n up on the other

bank, p repared to resist his furth er advance. Instead, they were imm obilized
by contentious councils on the plain of M ohacs thirty miles to the north.
Some urged retreat until expected reinforcem ents had arrived; others opposed
the surrender of m ost of the country w ithout offering resistance. T he latter
group prevailed, and on A ugust 29, 1526, the fateful battle of M ohacs was
fought: 25,000 to 2 8,000 H ungarians and assorted allies on the one side,
and on the other 4 5 ,0 0 0 T urkish regulars supported by 10,000 to 20,000
lightly arm ed irregulars.
T he issue was never in doubt. O nly a freak of chance could have
saved the C hristian arm y, rent as it was by dissension and its several parts
acting independently. T he heavily arm ed H ungarian cavalry broke the T u r
kish center, but was then held up by the O ttom an artillery, while the strong
T urkish wings outflanked the C hristian arm y. W ithin an hour and a half the
battle was decided. T he T urks took no prisoners and few of the defeated
W hat Kosovo had been for Serbia, M ohacs was now for H ungary.
N ot only the bulk of the arm y but alm ost all its leaders, including the king,
h ad perished. Suleim an was able to advance to Buda and to enter the capital
w ithout opposition. H e stayed only two weeks and then started with his arm y
on the road back to C onstantinople. He had decided not to annex Hungary
but to m ake it a tributary principality like W allachia. In this design he was
aided by the schem ing and am bitious H ungarian noblem an, John Zapolya.
T he death of King Louis left B ohem ia and H ungary w ithout a sov
ereign. T he obvious candidate for both thrones was F erdinand of H apsburg,
b ro th er of E m peror C harles and brother-in-law to Louis. W ith the use of
judicious bribery F erdinand persuaded the Bohem ian nobles to proclaim him
their king. But in H ungary he had to contend with Zapolya, the leader of the
N ationalist party, who had occupied Buda after the departure of Suleiman.
F erdinand easily defeated the disorganized forces of Zapolya, and by the end
of 1527 he had won the crow n and gained control of m ost of the country.
Zapolya now followed F rancis exam ple and appealed to Suleim an for
The sultan, having conquered H ungary, was not disposed to sit back
and perm it the H apsburgs to reap the fruits of his victory. He had under
taken the expedition to check the H apsburgs, not to add still another king
dom to their em pire. Since Suleim an did not wish to annex H ungary directly,
a dependent Zapolya in B uda - was the obvious solution. Accordingly he
prom ised Zapolya the throne and assured him of his support.
This m arked the beginning of the struggle between the H apsburg and
O ttom an em pires th at was to continue to the end of the eighteenth century.
H itherto V enice and H ungary h ad borne the burden of the Turkish on
slaught. But Venice was now thoroughly intim idated and H ungary destroyed.
O nly the H apsburgs had both the land and the sea pow er necessary to take
the place of Venice in the M editerranean and of H ungary in C entral Europe.

Ottoman Empire at Its Height: 1481-1566


H enceforth the H apsburg E m pire was the m arch of W estern C hristendom

against the M oslem world. Indeed, the m enace of the ever-victorious T u rk
becam e a m atter of growing concern in C entral E urope, as the following
G erm an folk song attests:
From Hungary hes soon away,
In Austria by break of day,
Bavaria is just at hand,
From there hell reach another land.
Soon to the Rhine perhaps hell come. . . ,8
Suleim an left C onstantinople for H ungary on M ay 10, 1529. O n the
M ohacs Plain he m et Zapolya, who paid him hom age and contributed a con
siderable cavalry force to the expedition. C ontinuing northw ard, Suleim an
recaptured B uda with little trouble, and on Septem ber 18 he reached the
A ustrian border. T en days later he arrived before V ienna and the siege began.
M eanw hile F erdinand had been desperately seeking to scrape together m oney
and men for the defense of his capital. His b io th er, the em peror, being still
at w ar with Francis, was able to spare only a small num ber of Spanish in
fantry. T he G erm an princes were m ore helpful, while L uther had abandoned
com pletely his earlier unconcern now th at Suleim an was approaching the
borders of G erm any. 1 fight, L u th er declared, until death against the
T urks and the G od of the T u rk s. 7
All in all, nearly tw enty thousand men were gathered in the city be
fore the T urks cut it off from the outside world. M ost of the defenders were
professional soldiers and, under the leadership of the seventy-year-old vet
eran, Nicholas von Salm, they fought off the superior T urkish forces with
courage and skill. Suleim an sorely missed the heavy artillery th at he had been
forced to leave behind because of the torrential rains th at plagued him from
the outset. T he light cannon th at rem ained m ade little im pression on the city
walls. H e resorted to mining operations and repeatedly ordered assaults upon
the breaches opened by the mines. B ut the attacks invariably were repulsed.
T he Turkish soldiers becam e so dispirited th at their officers had to drive
them forw ard with staves and sabers. W ith the failure of a final assault on
O ctober 14 Suleim an raised the siege and ordered retreat.
T he expedition h ad been successful at least politically. Suleim an had
driven F erd in an d out of H ungary and installed in his place an obedient
vassal. B u t m ore significant was the fact th at a T urkish arm y had been
beaten back before the walls of V ienna by a force m uch inferior in num bers.
This may be considered the beginning of the end of O ttom an m ilitary supe
riority. In the past the feudal cavalry of Persia, Egypt, and H ungary had
been no m atch for the T urkish m ilitary m achine with its disciplined janis
saries and deadly artillerists. B ut at V ienna Suleim an discovered that W estern
artillery was equal to his own and th at A ustrian and Spanish foot soldiers,


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

with their harquebuses and long pikes, were, if anything, superior to his
janissaries. T here were still m any trium phs in store for Suleim an and his
successors, b u t the days of easy victories had passed.
It should be noted th a t geographic factors played an im portant role in
this and other T urkish cam paigns to the north of the D anube. O ttom an arm ies
destined for C entral E urope traditionally left C onstantinople on A pril 23, the
day of the holy m an corresponding to St. G eorge. They needed about two
m onths to reach southern H ungary; hence, allowing a sim ilar period for the
return, only eight to ten weeks rem ained for trans-D anubian operations. Thus
the distance involved, together w ith the difficult terrain and unpredictable
w eather, protected C entral E urope from the dom ination of C onstantinople.

If the W estern m onarchs w ere equal to Suleim an in the art of w ar,
their political disunity still kept them hopelessly inferior in the conduct of
war. This becam e painfully evident when F erdinand attem pted to follow up
his success at V ienna. W ith the T urkish arm y recuperating from its losses
and obviously incapable of a w inter cam paign, F erdinand could have taken
the offensive, driven Zapolya out of H ungary, and perhaps even recaptured
Belgrade. But m ost of the troops provided at V ienna cam e from princes that
were intensely jealous of the growing pow er of the H apsburgs. They were
willing to cooperate in a w ar against the com m on enem y but they refused to
help F erd in an d win the H ungarian crow n. M ost of them , indeed, hoped for
the success of Zapolya despite his M oslem patronage. F erdinand likewise
could not count on the support of his b ro th er Charles. T he harassed em peror
h ad ju st m ade peace w ith Francis b u t was now hastening northw ard to deal
with the L utherans. F irst he would punish the P ro testan t heretics w ithin the
em pire and then the M oslem infidels w ithout.
U nder the circum stances F erd in an d had no choice b u t to send envoys
to C onstantinople to seek peace. Suleim an, however, was determ ined to
avenge the hum iliation he had suffered at V ienna and was already preparing
another expedition. In A pril, 1532, he left C onstantinople at the head of an
im m ense arm y, openly avowing th at he would m arch to V ienna and give
battle to the head of C hristendom , the E m peror Charles. Faced with this
im m inent danger, Charles hurriedly m ade concessions to the L utheran
heretics. It is paradoxical th at an invading M oslem arm y should have con
tributed so much to the cause of Protestantism in its critical form ative stage.
T he restoration of peace enabled C harles to gather a large arm y, contingents
arriving from Spain, Italy, A ustria, the N etherlands, and the Germ anies.
V ienna was m uch better prep ared to w ithstand Suleim an th an on the previous
occasion three years earlier.
T his m ay explain why the siege never m aterialized. Leaving Belgrade
on June 25, Suleiman crossed the D rava and then, instead of following the
D anube northw ard to Buda and V ienna, he turned westward to the narrow

Ottoman Empire at Its Height: 1481-1566


strip of H ungarian territory still held by F erdinand. Perhaps his strategy was
to lure the im perial arm y out of V ienna and onto the H ungarian plains, where
there would be a chance for a second M ohacs. B ut C harles refused to budge
and Suleim an was left free to devastate the countryside, though he carefully
avoided another exhausting ordeal before V ienna. A fter besieging the small
town of G uns in desultory fashion for tw enty days Suleim an turned aside,
ravaged Styria, and then led his arm y hom ew ard. Thus the anticipated duel
betw een the sultan of the E ast and the em peror of the W est never took place.
Suleim an now was ready for peace. W hile he had been cam paigning
in H ungary, the em perors G enoese adm iral, A ndrea D oria, had captured the
fortress of K oron in the Peloponnesus and ravaged the adjacent coasts. M uch
m ore w orrisom e was the outbreak of fighting with Persia on the eastern
frontier. Suleim an could not hope to wage w ar sim ultaneously on the H u n
garian plains and on the Persian plateau. H e decided, therefore, to m ake
peace in the W est in order to be free for a cam paign in the E ast the follow
ing year. O n June 22, 1533, he signed the first T u rkish-A ustrian treaty with
Ferdinand. T he term s were th at Zapolya should rem ain king of H ungary but
F erdinand was to keep the third of the country he occupied at the time. This
settlem ent was with only one of the H apsburg brothers. C harles V was n o t a
signatory, so th at in the following years Suleim an waged a naval w ar against
the em peror and a land w ar against the shah of Persia.


We consider the Persian cam paigns, separately at this point only for
the sake of convenience. A ctually they were p art and parcel of the intercon
tinental wars of these decades. T he shah was in league with the em peror in
the sam e m anner that the sultan was with the king of France. Suleim ans in
vasion of Persia was inconclusive though by no m eans fruitless. His grand
vizir, Ibrahim , occupied the shahs capital, T abriz, on July 13, 1534. The
following year Ibrahim , together with Suleim an, took over B aghdad from its
Persian com m ander, who treacherously surrendered the city. The shah, how
ever, was by no m eans beaten. T aking a lesson from his fath ers unfortunate
experience at the hands of Selim, he avoided battle and instead harassed the
.Turkish arm y with hit-and-run tactics. Suleiman suffered heavy losses pur
suing the elusive shah until he realized the futility of attem pting to pin him
down. T hen he evacuated T abriz after thoroughly sacking the city, and re
turned to C onstantinople in January, 1536. This proved to be only the be
ginning of a p ro tracted struggle th at was to drag on interm ittently for tw enty
years. Suleim an led new expeditions against P ersia in 1548 and 1553, but
with the sam e inconclusive results. Finally, he ended the tedious and costly
w ar by accepting a peace settlem ent in which he abandoned all claim to the
T abriz region but k ept low er M esopotam ia, including B aghdad and a frontage
on the Persian Gulf.
In the m eantim e O ttom an fleets u nder the leadership of the fam ous


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

N o rth A frican corsair, K haireddin B arbarossa, had spread terror throughout

the M editerranean. In 1533 Suleim an had appointed B arbarossa to the post
of K apudan P asha or L ord High A dm iral, thereby com bining N orth A frican
M oslem sea pow er with the resources of the O ttom an E m pire. During the
following years B arbarossa successfully fought against the com bined fleets
of the H oly League V enice, the Papacy, and the E m pire. Following B arbarossas death in 1545 his veteran captains continued his work. By 1562
M oslem vessels w ere sailing through the Straits of G ibraltar, venturing out
into the A tlantic as far as the C anaries, and preying upon the treasure-laden
galleons from the New W orld. T he T urks suffered a setback in 1565 when
they failed to take M alta, the last rem aining stronghold of the Knights of St.
John. Y et the fact rem ains th a t during his reign Suleim an had added the
entire N orth A frican coast to his em pire, the sole exception being the small
stretch from O ran w estw ard, which belonged to the Spaniards.
T he year after the failure at M alta, Suleim an, now seventy years old,
was carried in a litter, at the head of his arm y, on his thirteenth m arch out
of C onstantinople. T he destination once m ore, as so frequently in the past,
was the disputed kingdom of H ungary. M any events had occurred in that
unfortunate country since 1533, when Suleim an concluded an agreem ent
with F erdinand of H apsburg in order to be free against Persia. M ost im por
tan t had been the death in 1540 of his vassal king of H ungary, Zapolya. F er
dinand im m ediately m arched in from the west to m ake good his claim to the
whole country. Suleim an, in turn, invaded from the south, ostensibly to de
fend the interests of Z apolyas infant son. B ut as soon as he entered Buda,
Suleim an proclaim ed H ungary an O ttom an province and established his di
rect im perial adm inistration. F erdinand had no choice but to accept the fait
accom pli, and for nearly a century and a half alm ost all of H ungary was in
T urkish hands.
Now, in 1566, Suleim an was heading north once m ore. T he failure
of the M alta expedition weighed heavily on his m ind and -he was determ ined
to end his career with a success as signal as th at against Belgrade in the first
year of his reign. A lso, he h ad a score to settle with the new em peror, M ax
im ilian II, who had perm itted raids upon T urkish territory. So Suleim an was
borne northw ard from C onstantinople to Sofia, Belgrade, Semlin (Z em u n ),
and finally Szigeth. T here he halted on A ugust 5 to lay siege to the strongly
fortified city th at had successfully resisted him before. E xactly a m onth later,
while his guns were thundering against the obstinate defenders, the great
sultan died, a fitting end for the old w arrior. His body was em balm ed and
carried in the royal litter, while orders continued to be issued over his nam e.
F o r three weeks his d eath was kept secret from the arm y, until arrangem ents
had been com pleted for the peaceful accession of the new sultan, the besotted
Selim II.

6. Ottoman Institutions

L J u l e i m a n t h e M a g n i f i c e n t represents the great di

vide in the history of the O ttom an Em pire. Before his reign, O ttom an his
tory was one of victories and expansion; after his reign it was m arked by
defeats and contraction. T he decline adm ittedly was not uninterrupted. We
shall note brief periods of recovery and even of expansion. But the general
trend was dow nw ard, culm inating finally in the p artition of the em pire after
W orld W ar I.
O ur W estern world is m ore aw are of these later centuries of deca
dence th a n it is of the earlier centuries of strength and efficiency. This is u n
derstandable, for the various E uropean states th a t suffered the blows of the
T urks in their prim e have long since disappeared. In contrast, the presentday great powers cam e into close contact with the T urks only after the evils
and weakness of their em pire had becom e apparent. T hus the word T urkish
becam e associated in the W estern m ind with such phrases as Sick M an of
E u ro p e , Bulgarian atrocities, and A rm enian m assacres.
This association is as unsound as it is unjust. T he R om an E m pire
adm ittedly was feeble and decadent in the fifth century a . d ., but this does
not detract from its splendor and contributions in earlier centuries. Likewise,
the O ttom an E m pire was a dying organism in its later years, and T sar
N icholas I was fully justified in referring to it as the Sick M an of E u ro p e.
B ut it should be recalled th at a Spanish am bassador used precisely the same
phrase to describe E ngland in the sixteenth century, and th at during the same
century the O ttom an E m pire was regarded by W estern E uropeans with a
com bination of awe, respect, and fear.
Ogier G hiselin de Busbecq, the judicious and observant H apsburg
am bassador in C onstantinople at the tim e of Suleim an, com pared the sultan
to a thunderbolt he smites, shatters, and destroys w hatever stands in his
w ay. 1 As late as 1634, well after the decline of the em pire had set in, a
thoughtful English traveler concluded th at the T urks w ere the only m odern



Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

people great in action, and th at he w ho w ould behold these times in their

greatest glory, could not find a better scene than T urkey. 2
A n em pire th at com m anded such respect obviously had little in com
m on w ith the w eak and degenerate Sick M an of popular conception. In
this chap ter we shall exam ine the conditions and institutions of this em pire
at its height its vast dom ains with their polyglot peoples, its form idable
arm ies, its advanced culture and exceptional religious freedom , and, above
all, its unique adm inistrative system based exclusively upon slaves of C hris
tian origin.
T he O ttom an E m pire spraw led over three continents. In E urope it
included the B alkan Peninsula to the D anube River, together with the fol
lowing provinces north of the river: T ransylvania, M oldavia, W allachia,
m ost of H ungary, Podolia in Poland, and the entire north coast of the Black
Sea. In A sia it em braced A sia M inor, A rm enia, m ost of the C aucasus, the
Tigris and E uphrates valleys dow n to the Persian Gulf, the w estern coast
of the P ersian G ulf, and all the lands on the eastern coast of the M editer
ranean together with a wide strip running dow n the entire length of the
A rabian Peninsula to the G ulf of A den. Finally in A frica, the em pire encom
passed Egypt, Tripoli, Tunisia, and Algeria. A nd to com plete the picture we
should add Crete, C yprus, and the islands of the Aegean.
W ithin this vast em pire lived peoples of diverse strains and creeds.
T he T urks, T atars, A rabs, K urds, T urkom ans, Berbers, and M am elukes all
belonged to Islam , together with large num bers of Bosnians, A lbanians, and
Bulgarians who had apostatized to the conquering creed. T he rem aining
ethnic groups G reeks, H ungarians, South Slavs, R um anians, A rm enians,
G eorgians, and E gyptian C opts all belonged to the various C hristian
churches, of which by far the m ost im portant was the O rthodox. In addition
there were the Jews who at this tim e were m igrating in large num bers to the
lands of the sultan because they found there a degree of religious tolerance u n
know n and unim aginable in the C hristian E urope of th at day. All in all, a
population of approxim ately fifty m illion com pared to the five m illion in
contem porary England.
T he sultan was the suprem e ruler of these lands and peoples. A l
though he was generally regarded as a despot, his despotism in fact was
rigidly lim ited by a specific and im m utable constitution. This constitution,
know n as the Sheri o r Sacred Law of Islam , was based upon the w ord of
G od the K oran and upon the sayings of M oham m ed the H adith. T he
Sheri was not merely a religious law like the canon law of C hristendom . It
left no scope for secular laws to regulate m undane affairs. It was theoretically
adequate to govern the Islamic world and to regulate minutely the social,
ethical, religious, and econom ic life of all its members.

Ottoman Institutions


In actual practice the Sheri soon becam e obsolete, at least as a po

litical constitution. It was designed to regulate the prim itive society of the
A rabian Peninsula rath er th an the w orld em pire that Islam soon conquered.
F urtherm ore, this sacred law, believed to be of divine origin, was unchange
able by its own provisions. Judges and jurists attem pted to provide elasticity
through interpretation, but this procedure by itself was insufficient. A ccord
ingly, the sultans supplem ented the sacred law by decrees of their own know n
as kanuns. These decrees did not constitute a secular law rivaling the Sheri.
They were merely regulations applying to m atters undefined by the Sheri,
with the precepts of which they could not conflict. These kanuns allowed the
sultans a certain latitude, though it was quite lim ited and rigidly circum
scribed. N o kanun could be effective unless it received the support of the
conservative M oslem population and unless it was approved by the decisions
of the established heads of law and religion, known collectively as the ulema.
T he latter, in fact, m ore than once forced the deposition of sultans who
were judged to have violated the sacred law.
These restrictions left the head of the O ttom an E m pire with little
legislative pow er. B ut his adm inistrative authority was virtually absolute; the
reason was th at the adm inistration and th e,stan d in g arm y were com posed
alm ost entirely of slaves over whom the sultan had the pow er of life and
death. T he use of slaves was not uncom m on in M oslem states, especially for
m ilitary purposes. T he O ttom an rulers from an early period m aintained a
standing arm y of slaves in addition to a feudal cavalry force com posed of
freeborn M oslem landholders. T he slaves either were purchased or, m ore
com m only, were tak en prisoners in the cam paigns against the C hristian in
fidels. But, as we noted in C hap ter 3, M urad I (1 3 5 9 -1 3 8 9 ) hit upon a new
expedient, nam ely a periodic levy of the male children of his O rthodox C hris
tian subjects. T he children were taken from their parents a t betw een the ages
of ten and tw enty, reduced to the status of slaves, and trained for service to
the state. This system h ad tw o great m erits in the eyes of the sultans: the
child slaves cost nothing, and they were com pletely dependent upon their
m aster. These advantages led to a furth er developm ent. In the earlier days
the adm inistration of the growing em pire h ad been conducted by free M os
lems; these were now replaced alm ost w ithout exception by the sultans slaves.
T he long line of able and energetic rulers who preceded Suleim an perfected
this unique system to the point where it becam e the solid foundation of the
em pire. T he slaves w ere carefully selected, thoroughly trained, and then sent
out to fill the ranks of the regular arm y and the adm inistration. This vast
slave organization, together with its im perial m aster who owned and con
trolled it, is com m only know n as the R uling Institution.


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566


T he O ttom an sultans had m uch precedent in Islam ic history for using

slaves in their adm inistration and arm ed forces. B ut they were quite original
in using these slaves to the exclusion of free M oslems. T hus we have the
p arad o x of a great M oslem em pire being governed and, in part, defended,
by slaves of C hristian origin. This in tu rn m eant th at the freeborn M oslems
could enter only the legal, religious, and educational institutions of their
em pire. Those who did so are com m only referred to collectively as the
M oslem Institution in contradistinction to the R uling Institution.
We shall consider later the com position and function of the M oslem
Institution in m ore detail. T o return to the Ruling Institution, it should be
noted th at not all of its slave m em bers were recruited as children from O rth o
dox families. O thers were captured in w ar and still others were purchased in
the slave m arkets. T hese m arkets were kept supplied by two sets of profes
sional slave raiders: the B arbary corsairs who preyed upon the shipping and
exposed coasts of Southern and W estern E urope; and the Crim ean T atars
who devastated the steppe lands of Poland and M uscovy. It is estim ated that
seven to eight thousand slaves entered the sultans service annually, of which
about three thousand were from the child-levy.
U pon joining the sultans great slave household the recruits were
first exam ined and classified by highly trained officials. A bout 90 per cent
were sent to A sia M inor to spend several years in the service of feudal land
holders. T here they were expected to learn T urkish, to m aster the art of war,
and to be converted to Islam . T hen they returned to C onstantinople to enter
one of the m ilitary corps. M eanw hile, in the fam ous Palace School established
by M oham m ed the C onqueror, the rem aining 10 per cent, who were selected
for their handsom e appearance and apparent ability, were being trained to
becom e the great m en of the em pire. A fter graduation they usually filled
m inor posts in the provinces. F rom then on they were free to rise, on the
basis of m erit, through the ranks of the hierarchy to the m ost exalted posi
tions in C onstantinople.
It is easy to arouse m oral indignation against the practice of buying
slaves in the m arket place or of taking young children away from their p ar
ents. B ut if we consider these practices in the light of contem porary condi
tions and m ores they appear m ore natural and understandable. W e should
keep in m ind that slavery in Islam was a very different institution from
slavery in the West. T he M oslem m aster recognized no color line. N orm ally
he m aintained w arm personal relations with the slaves. F requently he freed
them as a m eritorious act enjoined by the K oran. A nd not uncom m only he
gave his daughters in m arriage to those of his slaves whom he held in highest
esteem . T hus slavery u nder Islam involved servitude but very little social in
feriority. A nd in the O ttom an E m pire, w here the most favored slaves were
at the sam e time the actual rulers, the use of the word slave is perhaps un
avoidable but certainly unfortunate and misleading.

Ottoman Institutions


C ontem porary evidence concerning the child-tribute is significantly

contradictory. Some observers em phasized the reluctance of C hristian parents
to part with their sons. Stephen G erlach, the chaplain to the H apsburg am
bassador in C onstantinople, noted in 1577 th a t C hristians give wives to
their sons in their eighth or ninth year, only so th a t they may be freed from
the Turkish child-levy, for m arried ones are not taken. 3 In contrast, the
Venetian am bassador reported a century earlier th at C hristian parents re
garded the child-tribute a boon which provided their sons with an oppor
tunity for advancem ent.
Both these attitudes undoubtedly prevailed. Certainly the im perial
capital opened horizons for the new recruit th at he could not have imagined
in his native village. Indeed, there were instances of M oslem parents so anx
ious to enter their own freeborn children into the sultans slave family th a t
they bribed their C hristian neighbors to exchange children surreptitiously.
It is true that a C hristian family of deep religious convictions could never
countenance the loss of children to Islam , w hatever the rew ards might be.
B ut here again we m ust recall th at religious lines at this tim e were consid
erably blurred. It was not until the later centuries of O ttom an weakness and
W estern aggression th at both M oslem s and Christians becam e fanatical and
intolerant. O f the long list of insurrections against T urkish rule, we know of
only one m inor disturbance that can be ascribed specifically to this childlevy. It is significant that Suleiman the Magnificent issued a decree in which,
after listing the peoples-Russians, Persians, Gypsies, and T urks from
whom boys were not to be levied, he added: If any officer recruits any of
these, either for a bribe or at som eones request or because of the interven
tion of people in high places, and adds them to the num ber of my loyal slaves,
may the curse of G od and the hundred and tw enty-four thousand prophets
be upon him . 4
T he net result of this rem arkable system was th a t a great M oslem
em pire was based upon C hristian braw n and C hristian brain. D uring the
period from 1453 to 1623, when the em pire was at its height, only five of the
forty-seven grand vizirs were of T urkish origin. T he rem aining forty-tw o con
sisted of eleven A lbanians, eleven South Slavs, six G reeks, one Circassian,
one A rm enian, one G eorgian, one Italian, and ten of unknow n origin. C on
tem porary W estern observers could not help being im pressed and overaw ed
by this unique system which took hum ble C hristian peasant boys and trans
form ed them into the great leaders of Islam and the m ost feared enem ies of
C hristendom . O bserved A m bassador B usbecq:
In Turkey every man has it in his power to make what he will of the
position into which he is born and of his fortune in life. Those who hold the
highest posts under the Sultan are very often the sons of shepherds and herds
men, and, so far from being ashamed of their birth, they make it a subject of
boasting. . . . Thus among the Turks, dignities, offices, and administrative posts
are the rewards of ability and merit; those who are dishonest, lazy, and slothful


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

never attain to distinction, but remain in obscurity and contempt. This is why the
Turks succeed in all that they attempt and are a dominating race and daily extend
the bounds of their rule. Our method is very different; there is no room for merit,
but everything depends on birth. . . .5
T he arm ed forces an d the adm inistration are considered together
here because they w ere inseparable and to a large degree identical. W ith few
exceptions all adm inistrative officers were soldiers and all arm y officers had
adm inistrative duties. T he explanation for this m erging of functions is th a t
the T urks were w arriors before they were adm inistrators. W hen they con
quered territories they gave adm inistrative duties to their officers who at the
sam e tim e retained their original m ilitary titles and duties.
T he greater p a rt of the O ttom an arm ed forces consisted of a feudal
territorial cavalry know n as spahis. T hese w ere m eritorious M oslem soldiers
to w hom the sultan granted the right to collect certain taxes from specified
villages. This was the equivalent of a settled incom e, in return for which the
incum bent was required to reside on the land and to be ready to give w ar
service at a m om ents notice. T he size of the fief determ ined the num ber of
extra arm ed horsem en th at the spahi was required to bring to battle. D uring
Suleim ans reign the enfeoffed lands in E u ro pe supplied about 80,000 cavalry
and those in A sia about 50,000.
This arrangem ent superficially resem bled the feudal system of W est
ern E urope. In practice it was m uch m ore centralized and efficient when
the em pire was at its height. T he spahis were required to serve as long as
they were needed, in co n trast to the lim itation of forty days a year com m on
in the W est. T he spahis also paid allegiance to only one lord, their sultan,
and no subinfeudation was allow ed to w eaken this relationship. F urtherm ore,
the spahis were directly supervised by the sultans slaves sent out from C on
stantinople to adm inister the provinces. T hese officials were of several ranks,
the highest being the sanjakbey, who governed a district or sanjak, and the
beylerbey, who had authority over all the beys of his province.
T he central governm ent did n o t pay these adm inistrators regular
salaries from the treasury. Instead, it attached fiefs to the offices, and the
proceeds of the fiefs were available for the support of the officeholders. The
latter, therefore, were feudal landholders them selves, b u t only in a limited
sense only by virtue of their office and for the duration of their tenure. Fiefs
were set aside not only for adm inistrative offices b u t also for num erous mili
tary posts, for m em bers of the im perial family, and for the sultans private
dom ain. T hus the spahis, w ho alone enjoyed hereditary rights, controlled less
th an half of the enfeoffed land. This in tu rn m eant th a t O ttom an feudalism
was correspondingly m ore centralized than th a t in the W est. In later days, as
we shall see, provincial potentates did arise who successfully defied the au
thority of C onstantinople. Hut rarely were they rebellious spahis. R ather,

Ottoman Institutions


they usually were powerful officeholders who refused to relinquish their posts
and the attached lands to a governm ent that had grown lax and feeble.
W e need to note also that the sultan s slaves who were sent to govern
the provinces were responsible not only for adm inistrative but also for m ili
tary duties. In tim e of w ar they acted as m ilitary officers, assembling the
spahis of their districts and leading them to th^ m eeting place set by the
sultan. O riginally these w arrior-adm inistrators had been draw n from the
M oslem landed fam ilies, but with the adoption of the child-levy the sultan
replaced them with his slaves. In doing so he assured his authority over the
feudal spahis, w hether scattered over the countryside or gathered for war.
N ot only did the sultan control the feudal cavalry by appointing his
slaves to the com m and posts; he also controlled the regular standing arm y
because its entire m em bership from top to bottom consisted of his slaves.
This standing arm y com prised two great sections: the infantry know n as the
janissaries and the regular cavalry know n as the spahis of the Porte to be
distinguished from the feudal cavalry or spahis. T he spahis of the Porte were
an elite corps, noted for their m agnificent dress and accouterm ents, and re
spected for their incom parable skill as horsem en and bowm en. U nder Sulei
m an they num bered ten to twelve thousand, and, with their attendant horse
m en, who also rode into battle, they totaled forty to fifty thousand.
T he m ost fam ous and feared unit of the O ttom an m ilitary m achine
was the corps of janissaries, in which w ere included sm aller groups of arm or
ers, artillerym en, and tran sp o rt troops. N um bering ten to twelve thousand
men in Suleim ans tim e, the janissaries possessed a discipline and esprit th at
m ade them the terro r of the C hristian world. They were alm ost as feared,
how ever, w ithin their own em pire, for they had a strong sense of w hat they
considered to be their rights and privileges. They caused m uch trouble and
anxiety to as strong a ruler as Suleim an. In later centuries they dom inated
weak sultans to the point where they becam e a m enace to the order and
security of the em pire they were supposed to protect.

W e have seen th a t a basic difference betw een the R uling and M oslem
Institutions was th at the form er was slave-m anned, w hereas the latter of
necessity was exclusively M oslem. T he core of the M oslem Institution com
prised those tru e believers w ho were experts in their knowledge of the K oran
and who served as teachers, as judges, and as jurist-theologians.
The teachers taught in schools which were usually attached to
m osques and which w ere in three grades: prim ary schools (m ek teb s), col
leges (m ed resseh s), and law schools of university grade (higher m edressehs).
The graduates of the colleges w ere eligible to teach in the prim ary schools
and to attend to ecclesiastical duties. Those who com pleted the long and
arduous course in the law schools could choose one of several callings: they
might becom e professors of law in their tu rn , or they m ight join the select


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

and distinguished class of jurists, o r enter the judicial system. In the latter
case they would be appointed as judges or kazis, of which there were num er
ous and com plicated categories, culm inating in the kaziasker or chief judge
of R um eli (E u ro p e ) and the kaziasker of A natolia (A sia ). The kazis might
be com pared to the judges of W estern courts. T he law they adm inistered was
the sacred law supplem ented by the kanuns of the sultans and the custom s
of the regions in which they served. C ontem porary W estern observers were
im pressed by the speed and definiteness with which the kazis settled their
cases, though they also reported th at bribery and corruption were as com m on
as in their own countries.
T hose university graduates who becam e jurists ranked the highest
in public esteem . These jurists or muftis were assigned as counselors to the
kazis of every im portant city and to the sanjakbeys and beylerbeys. The
function they fulfilled had no exact parallel in W estern society. A ppointed for
life, the m uftis lived in retirem ent and could not take the intiative on any
issue. R ath er, they served as a sort of court of appeal o r of reference. If a
judge o r a bey or any private citizen faced a problem involving knowledge of
the sacred law he w ould refer it to the m ufti. T he latter, after careful consid
eration, gave his professional opinion or fetva, which usually settled the case.
T he mufti of C onstantinople, know n as the Sheik ul-Islam , was the highest
religious and legal authority of the em pire. His position might be com pared
to th at of the Suprem e C ourt in the U nited States. He interpreted and de
fended the sacred law, the O ttom an equivalent of the A m erican Constitution.
In a sense he stood above the sultan himself. He could pass judgm ent, if re
quested, upon any action o r legislation by the sultan, and if he found it in
violation of the sacred law, the sultan then could rightfully be deposed.
This greatly simplified description of the M oslem Institution gives
some notion of its extraordinary authority and influence. All these teachers,
judges, and jurists, know n collectively as the ulem a or learned men, had an
identical training and a com m on philosophy of life. They were the exponents
and guardians of the sacred law. A nd since this inflexible body of doctrine was
essentially hostile to change and progress, the M oslem Institution becam e the
instrum ent of a blighting bondage upon the em pire and its peoples. W hereas
the W estern w orld em ancipated itself from a com parable scholasticism, the
O ttom an E m pire, partly because of the influence of the M oslem Institution,
rem ained in servitude until the nineteenth century. In short, the ulem a gave
the em pire a m onolothic unity which at first was impressive and effective but
which in the long run proved a fatal millstone.
H aving considered both the M oslem and R uling Institutions, we turn
finally to the D ivan, the body that brought them both together and gave
unity to the organization of the em pire. T he early sultans presided in per
son over the meetings of the D ivan, but Suleiman and his successors usually
delegated this function to their grand vizirs. The latter were the sultans bur

Ottoman Institutions


den-bearers in fact as well as in nam e. T hey supervised the entire im perial

adm inistration, both central and provincial. They controlled the arm y and
were expected to lead it in the field if necessary. T ogether with the kaziaskers
they served as a suprem e court of justice. A nd throughout the year they pre
sided over long sessions of the D ivan four days each week.
The Divan consisted of ex officio mem bers who represented both
Institutions. T he kaziaskers of E urope and A sia represented the M oslem
Institution. T h eir counterparts from the Ruling Institution were the two ad
m inistrative heads, the beylerbeys of E urope and A sia, and the two financial
heads, the defterdars of E urope and Asia. T he latter were the treasurers of
the em pire, responsible for all incom ing and outgoing funds. T he janissaries
were represented by their general or agha, and the naval forces by their ad
miral or kapudan pasha. Finally there was the nishanji, the head of the im
perial chancery, which m ade and preserved a record of every act of the
governm ent.
The Divan transacted an enorm ous am ount of business with effi
ciency and dispatch. Discussion was brief and to the point, the T urks being
traditionally close-tongued. All decisions were subject to the approval of the
sultan, but when this was given they were irrevocable. Since the sacred law
was the constitution of the em pire, the Divan had no legislative authority.
But it was the top judicial and adm inistrative organ of the state the cap
stone of the M oslem and Ruling Institutions.

T he O ttom an E m pire was unique not only for its slave system of
adm inistration but also for its unequaled degree of religious tolerance. In a
period when C atholics and Protestants were m assacring each other and when
Jews were being hounded from one C hristian state to another, the subjects
of the sultan were free to w orship as they wished with com paratively m inor
The explanation is to be found partly in the religious law -of Islam
and partly in O ttom an political strategy. T he sacred law recognized the
C hristians and Jews as being, like the M oslems, People of the Book. Both
had a scripture a w ritten w ord of revelation. T heir faith was accepted as
true, though incom plete, since M oham m ed had superseded M oses and Jesus
C hrist. Islam therefore tolerated the C hristians and Jews. It perm itted them
to practice their faith with certain restrictions and penalties.
Islam also laid down exact rules for all the concerns of life. It was
both a religious and a civil code. C onsequently, in tolerating the religions of
the non-M oslem s it also accepted their usuages and custom s. This was im ple
m ented by perm itting non-M oslem subjects to organize into com m unities with
their own ecclesiastical leaders. These com m unities were know n as millets, of
which there were as m any as there were religious groups. T hus the theocratic
O ttom an Em pire was organized not on the basis of ethnic groups but rather


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

of ecclesiastical com m unities. T he O ttom an authorities divided their subjects

not into G reeks or Bulgarians or R um anians, but rather into the following
m illets: O rthodox, G regorian A rm enian, R om an Catholic, Jewish, and P ro t
T he m ost privileged of these millets was the O rthodox, partly b e
cause of its superior num bers but also because of certain political considera
tions. A fter conquering C onstantinople, M oham m ed II sought to perpetuate
the rift betw een O rthodox and C atholic C hristianity by encouraging his O r
thodox subjects to regard him as their benefactor and protector against the
pope. F o r this reason he arranged for the election of a new patriarch to head
the O rthodox Church, and granted the patriarch ecclesiastical and secular
jurisdiction which in certain respects exceeded th at which had been allowed
by the Byzantine em perors.
In the following chapter we shall exam ine the precise degree of reli
gious autonom y enjoyed by the B alkan C hristians under O ttom an rule. We
shall note also th at they did not have full religious equality. A m ong other
discrim inations they w ere required to pay a special capitation tax and they
were also subject to the child-tribute, which was enforced until the seventeenth
century. B ut granting all this, the position of the nonconform ist was m uch
m ore favorable in the O ttom an E m pire than in C hristian E urope.
T he m ost striking evidence of O ttom an tolerance is the large-scale
im m igration of Jew ish refugees following their expulsion from Spain. The
new com ers were welcomed and were accorded the same privileges enjoyed
by other non-M oslem s. This unprecedented reception stim ulated new waves
of Jew ish im m igration until a total of approxim ately one hundred thousand
found refuge under the star and crescent. As m erchants, artisans, and pro
fessional m en, they soon played an im portant role in the affairs of the em
pire. A certain Joseph N asi exerted such influence upon Selim II that foreign
am bassadors respectfully courted this G reat Jew and reported his com
m ents and actions. Jewish traders and craftsm en were to be found in alm ost
every city in the em pire. Jew ish physicians, interpreters, and financiers m ade
them selves indispensable to O ttom an officials. L ady M ary W ortley M ontagu,
wife of the British am bassador, was so im pressed by the unique position of
the Jew s that she described it at length in a letter to her sister on M ay 17,
I observed most of the rich tradesmen were Jews. That people are an
incredible power in this country. They have many privileges above all the natural
Turks themselves, and have formed a very considerable commonwealth here,
being judged by their own laws, and have drawn the whole trade of the empire
into their hands, partly by the firm union among themselves, and prevailing on
the idle temper and want of industry of the Turks. Every pasha has his Jew, who
is his homme daffaires; he is let into all his secrets, and does all his business. No
bargain is made, no bribe received, no merchandise disposed of, but what passes
through their hands. They are the physicians, the stewards, and interpreters of the
great men.6

Ottoman Institutions


O f the m any pop u lar m isconceptions concerning the O ttom an E m

pire, the m ost com m on have to do with its culture. It is widely believed th at
the em pire was large and pow erful but backw ard and barbarous, and th at
the literature and arts it did possess were the product not of the T urks but
rath er of the G reeks, the Syrians, the Egyptians, and the other subject peoples.
Considering first the question of the ethnic origins of O ttom an cul
ture, we find th at the T urkish contribution was not as predom inant as might
be expected. B ut it should be rem em bered that the Turkish people were a
small m inority in their em pire, and furtherm ore, a m inority whose energies
were concentrated to a great extent upon w ar and conquest. Perhaps an
analogy m ay be draw n here betw een the T urkish w arrior and the A m erican
frontiersm an. T he conquest of an em pire m ay have left as little tim e and in
clination for cultural pursuits as the conquest of a wilderness.
W hether or not this analogy is tenable, there rem ains the basic
question of the validity of considering the num erous w riters and artists of
non-T urkish origin as G reeks or Syrians or A rm enians or w hatever their
ethnic strain m ight have been. F o r illustration we may take the case of Sinan
Pasha, the m ost fam ous architect of the O ttom an Em pire. Born in 1589 of
an obscure C hristian G reek family in A sia M inor, he was inducted into the
janissary corps through the child levy. He rose quickly through the ranks
because of his skill in devising ferries and building bridges during the cam
paigns. Soon he was engaged exclusively in building m osques and palaces
com m issioned by the rulers and grandees of the em pire. D uring his long
lifetime of ninety years he w orked w ith such energy and distinction th at he
gained an international reputation as the T urkish M ichelangelo. In every
p art of the em pire, from Bosnia to M ecca, he left the im print of his genius.
Before his death at the age of ninety he had erected no less than 343 build
ings, including 81 m osques, 55 schools, 50 chapels, 34 palaces, and 33 baths.
Two of his pupils, it m ight be noted, later were responsible for the Taj M ahal.
T he significance of Sinans career is th a t it dem onstrates why O tto
m an culture cannot be considered simply the sum total of several individual
national contributions. Sinan was definitely an O ttom an rath er than a Greek
architect. H e was so not only because his style was distinctively O ttom an but
also because his training, his prom otions, and his am azing productivity are
explainable only w ithin the context of the O ttom an E m pire with its wealth
and its unique opportunities for advancem ent. Sinan P asha was an O ttom an
rather th an a G reek architect for the sam e reason th at C arl Sandburg is an
A m erican rath er than a Swedish poet.
T urning from the origin of O ttom an culture to its content, we find
th at it was far from being scanty and inferior. Instead, it was sophisticated,
highly advanced, and im portant in the life of the em pire. O n the other hand,
it cannot be placed in the first ran k of w orld civilizations. It lacked the origi
nality and creativeness of a truly great culture like th at of the ancient G reeks.


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

O ne reason was the stultifying influence of Islam ic religious taboos. T he strict

injunction against the reproduction of the hum an form precluded any work
in sculpture and painting. Perhaps an even greater handicap was the over
pow ering influence of the Persian, A rabic, and Byzantine civilizations to
w hich the T urks fell heir. So massive and overwhelm ing was this heritage
th a t in the long ru n it acted as an anesthetic rather th an a stim ulant. Im p o r
tan t branches of O tto m an culture never freed themselves from the num bing
influence of the past.
O ttom an literature provides the classic exam ple of this cultural
bondage. U ntil the m id-nineteenth century it consisted alm ost exclusively of
poetry, prose being reserved for utilitarian purposes. A n outstanding feature
of this poetry was its im m ense popularity. Indeed, it was socially indispensa
ble. Just as the W estern gentlem an of this period quoted L atin and G reek
authors, so the O ttom an gentlem an garnished his speech with Persian quo
tations. If he were able, in addition, to write verse of his own, then his social
status and advancem ent were assured. T he im perial court sw arm ed with
poets, m any of whom received handsom e pensions or com fortable sinecures.
It was not uncom m on for sultans to hold literary com petitions and to partici
pate in the brilliant repartee and extem poraneous versifying. M any of the
sultans tw enty-one of the thirty-four have left verses of their own com
position. By the seventeenth century this passion for poetry had becom e a
veritable craze. O ne grand vizir w rote his reports from the battlefield in verse,
and the sultan in reply sent his instructions also in verse.
D espite its popularity and honored position, O ttom an poetry re
m ained artificial and unoriginal. It was alm ost entirely Persian in tone, form ,
and sentim ent. T he Seljuk T urks first adopted the highly developed Persian
culture and then transm itted it to their O ttom an successors. U nfortunately
the creative genius of P ersia had by th at time becom e sterile. T he O ttom ans
therefore inherited a literature th at was subtle and brilliant yet static and
O ttom an poets w rote their verses in Persian m eters and Persian
form s. They dropped the sim plicity of early T urkish verse in favor of m eta
phors, similes, hom onym s, anagram s, and a host of other rhetorical em bellish
m ents. T hey faithfully repeated the traditional phrases and associations. The
m oon-face, the cypress-form , the ruby-lip, occur with wearisom e repeti
tion. . . . W hen the nightingale is m entioned we m ay be sure the rose is
not far away, and if we read of the m o th in one line we m ay feel safe about
m eeting the ta p e r in the next. 7
The them es likewise w ere those of the Persian m asters. A lthough
only a score in num ber, these traditional them es w ere presented again and
again with ever-increasing beauty of language and ever subtler ingenuity of
phrase. Even the language did not escape the overm astering Persian influ
ence. T he original rugged T a ta r dialect becam e a m arvelous literary language
brilliant, harm onious, subtle but so artificial and so far rem oved from
everyday speech that it becam e incom prehensible to all but the educated

Ottoman Institutions


O ttom an gentlem an. A nd he, of course, represented only a small percentage

of the total population.
O ttom an poetry was a class poetry. This was true also of the other
arts practiced and patronized by the ruling circles in C onstantinople. A l
though the em pire was dem ocratic in the sense th at the classes were not rigid
and exclusive, the fact rem ains that they did exist. Class distinction was clear
and sharp, especially in cultural m atters. This is strikingly evident in the
different m eaning of the two w ords O sm anli and T u rk . A n O sm anli was
an educated gentlem an of broad intellectual interests who used the refined
literary language heavily encrusted with Persian and A rabic words. A T urk,
by contrast, was an unlettered provincial of Asia M inor who spoke the
purer but cruder and despised T urkish idiom. T he O sm anli looked down
upon the A natolian peasant T urk, calling him K aba T urk or rough T urk, and
Eshek T urk or donkey Turk.
Evliya Chelebi, the noted seventeenth-century traveler, is a good ex
am ple of the Osm anli gentlem an. His writings reflect a deep-seated and un
affected feeling of superiority rem iniscent of a nineteenth-century B ritish
colonial official. Evliya cam e by his attitude naturally. He had behind him
three centuries of successful em pire building as well as the basic contem pt of
a devout M oslem for all infidels. He looked with scorn upon the C hristian
subjects of the em pire. He loathed the Persians because they were schism atic
M oslems. He had few favorable com m ents to m ake w hen he journeyed
through G erm any, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, and Poland. Y et with
all his prejudices, Evliya was a m an of considerable culture. Like his fellow
Osm anlis he had a thorough knowledge of the sacred Islam ic literature and he
could quote freely from the Persian classics. He appreciated the arts and was
a fine musician. He was typical of his class in his love for country life, ani
mals, gardening, and sports. He himself was an expert horsem an, archer, and
swimmer. F o r all his mysticism and piety, Evliya was very m uch the gourm et,
describing with relish the choicest viands and sweets and indicating precisely
where they might be found. As a good M oslem he disclaim ed any firsthand
knowledge of wines; yet he showed him self thoroughly fam iliar with the best
brands consum ed by the unbelievers in the taverns across the G olden Horn.
In short, Evliya was an all-round m an a typical Osmanli.
T he T urk, on the other hand, had different training and different
tastes. T he literary language and the sophisticated poetry were for him a
closed book. Instead, he obtained his am usem ent at the popular Punch and
Judy show, com m only know n as K aragioz. This was a m arionette show per
form ed at night against a w hite linen screen lighted from behind to show off
the figures. These were m ade of tinted cam el hide and m anipulated at the
end of strings by the m aster of the show. E very evening as soon as it grew
dark, crow ds gathered in the innum erable coffeehouses where the shows were


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

usually held. T here they w atched the m oving silhouettes of the puppets and
roared with laughter at the hum orous sallies in the dialogues. T here was
m uch ribaldry and coarse joking, but not infrequently this was a cover for
political and social satire. T he principal character, Karagioz, was the em bodi
m ent of the plebeian T urk. Seemingly naive and crude, he was in reality
shrew d and cunning. In the end he invariably bested his m ore sophisticated
rivals. His foil was the pom pous H adjievat, who had acquired a sm attering of
culture and who decorated his speech with elegant A rabic phrases. These
were incom prehensible to K aragioz, and in m ocking im itation he turned
them into crude indecencies and puns to the delight of the sym pathetic
T he guilds also played an im portant role in the social life of the T urks
who lived in the towns and cities. Evliya Chelebi has left a vivid description
of a roisterous three-day procession before the sultan in C onstantinople in
1638. The various guilds participated seven hundred and thirty-five in all
and Evliya describes them for us as they file past the im perial pavilion. E ach
guild is preceded by its band, followed by several wagons bearing sym bolical
groups representative of the p articular craft or profession. As the w agons
roll along, the occupants scatter sweets in all directions and am use the spec
tators by shouting, dancing, gesticulating, grim acing, and bantering in ca r
nival fashion.
T here w ere the scavengers who paid for the right to search the city
dunghills for coins, nails, precious stones and other small articles ; the miners,
m ostly A rm enians, a foul-sm elling set of m en, yet indispensable in sieges ;
the Chief E xecutioner girt with a fiery sword, his belt bulging with all the
instrum ents of his c ra ft ; the corporation of thieves and footpads, a very
num erous one who have an eye to your purse ; the corporation of pim ps
and bankrupts who are also w ithout num b er ; and the night-w atchm en who,
as they pass along, strike their staves on the ground and cry out, as if they
were after a thief: Hie! C atch him! D ont let him get away! T here he goes!
and, by way of a joke, they lay hold of the nearest spectators giving them a
thorough fright, all in fun. T he crow d, at their approach, open out on both
sides so as to give a wide berth to their frolics.
We see the divers who spit oil from their m ouths to m irror the bed of
the sea, and who adorn their ears with m erm aids hairs; also the lion keepers,
the b ear leaders, the coffeehouse storytellers, the G reek charcoal burners, the
snow m en from M ount O lym pus with sacks of snow to provide the palace with
iced drinks, and the T urcom en syrup sellers who, with their sugar-sweet
tongues . . . succeed in wheedling them selves into the hearts of w om en and
obtaining from them the sweetest of favors. Such sly fellows are these wily
T u rk s.
M ore prosaic were the guildsm en connected with the m arket: the
cooks, dried-garlic m erchants, butchers, m ustard m erchants, sherbet sellers,
pastry m akers, fisherm en and fish cooks, textile m erchants, honey dealers,

Ottoman Institutions


goldsm iths, fruit m erchants, w atchm akers, poulterers, furriers, tanners, shoe
m akers, brewers, and tripe sellers the latter not w ithout significance, for
Evliya gives us a preventive for a hangover: tripe soup, to be eaten last
thing before retiring. All in all, a brilliant and fascinating pageant of the
O ttom an E m pire at its height.8

7 . Balkan Peninsula under O ttom an Rule

H o p e r i o d of m odern E uropean history rem ains so

obscure as the five centuries of O ttom an rule in the Balkans. C ontem porary
W estern observers, fascinated and awed by the ever-expanding O ttom an E m
pire, w rote detailed accounts of w hat they saw and experienced. But most of
these accounts are lim ited to C onstantinople and to a few other cities. T he
travelers who ventured into the Balkan lands seldom strayed from the great
E uro p ean road running from V ienna through Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia,
A drianople, and on to the O ttom an capital. Very few contem poraries had
any contact with, or interest in, the mass of C hristian peoples living in the
B alkan countryside. A ccordingly, we are well inform ed about the institutions
of the em pire but largely ignorant of its subjects. We know much about the
sultans and their courts and arm ies but very little about the C hristian peasants
and how they fared under O ttom an officials and Turkish feudal lords.
T he B alkan peoples them selves have left few records of this period
of their history. H aving lost their ruling class, which alone was educated and
articulate, they were left leaderless, anonym ous, and silent. Even their clergy
m en were largely illiterate. T he few who did have a sm attering of learning
contented themselves with ecclesiastical discourses and fanciful chronicles.
T hus for centuries the G reeks, A lbanians, R um anians, and South Slavs were
peoples w ithout a history. A nd w hen at long last they recovered their in
dependence they turned their backs on the preceding O ttom an period as one
of national hum iliation and ignominy. Instead, their historians w rote of earlier
periods of glory and greatness. T he G reeks recounted the illustrious achieve
m ents of their classical and Byzantine ancestors; the Bulgarians turned to
their great tsars, Sim eon and Sam uel; and the Serbians to their Stephen
D ushan. C onsequently five centuries of B alkan history still rem ain in large
p art blurred and indiscernible.
In adequate as o u r knowledge is of O ttom an rule in the Balkans, we
can at least dismiss as m yth five centuries of unrelieved tyranny and opprcs-


Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


sion. T he origins of this m yth are n atu ral and understandable. It was fostered
in the nineteenth century by the various B alkan peoples w ho, fired by their
newly aw akened national consciousness, rejected and denounced everything
connected with their past servitude. It was accepted and reinforced by W est
erners who were m ore fam iliar with the em pire of A bdul H am id than th at of
Suleim an the M agnificent. H ence it cam e to be considered a fact th at for five
hundred years the B alkan C hristians had been despoiled and persecuted.
This interpretation is a typical exam ple of m odern nationalist mythology but
it bears little resem blance to historical fact. T he purpose of this chapter is to
analyze as clearly as our present know ledge will allow the actual position of
the B alkan peoples during the half m illenium of O ttom an rule.

The B alkan Peninsula did not change radically in its ethnic com
position during the O ttom an period. It did not experience m ass m igrations
com parable to those of the Slavs during the Byzantine era. But it did undergo
considerable change in the details of its ethnic configuration. C ertain A siatic
Moslem peoples settled in appreciable num bers in various localities, and the
B alkan peoples them selves shuffled back and forth under the pressure of
econom ic necessity and historical events.
The T urkish conquerors settled in the Balkans in com paratively small
num bers. Those who resided in the tow ns as adm inistrators and soldiers n a t
urally withdrew with the shrinking of the O ttom an frontiers during the eight
eenth and nineteenth centuries. T he only T urks that rem ained were those who
had actually settled as agriculturists. M ost of these were to be found in the
C onstantinople area, in B essarabia, the D obruja, southern and eastern Bul
garia, and in certain valleys in M acedonia and Thrace. It is estim ated th at
on the eve of W orld W ar II approxim ately one m illion T urks resided in
C onstantinople and its environs, and another m illion were scattered about in
isolated settlem ents in the various B alkan states.
C ertain other M oslem peoples appeared in the Balkans, the m ost n u
m erous being T atars who cam e from the C rim ea in the late eighteenth cen
tury, and Circassians from the C aucasus about a century later. Both these
groups settled in the D obruja and in eastern Bulgaria. A nother significant
im m igration was th at of the Jewish refugees who cam e from C hristian E urope
in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. C onstantinople received thirty to forty
thousand of the new com ers, Saloniki fifteen to tw enty thousand. A lm ost every
other B alkan tow n h ad its com m unity of Jews, invariably engaged in trade,
crafts, and the professions.
These additions to B alkan ethnography did not affect the dom inant
position of the native peoples the G reeks, A lbanians, South Slavs, and R u
m anians. O f these peoples, the G reeks em igrated to foreign countries in larg
est num bers, particularly during th e long series of T urkish-V enetian wars.
Some settled in D alm atia, V enetia, southern Italy, Corsica, Sicily, and M alta,


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

where they were gradually assim ilated by the native inhabitants. O thers m i
grated to Italian cities, where they founded com m unities which later m ade
im portant cultural and econom ic contributions to the m otherland. W ith the
grow th of trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, thousands of
G reek m erchants settled in the u rb an centers of the northern Balkans, C entral
E u ro p e, and southern R ussia. T hese com m unities also contributed greatly to
the G reek aw akening th a t preceded the national revolution in 1821.
A t the same tim e th at the G reeks were going abroad, large num bers
of A lbanians were m igrating southw ard into G reece. These agriculturists and
stockbreeders settled large areas in central G reece, the Peloponnesus, and
even a few islands n ear the m ainland. Since they were an unlettered people,
and of the sam e religion as the G reeks, they were gradually Hellenized by the
G reek church and G reek schools. As late as the m id-nineteenth century, how
ever, one could find m any villages where the w om en and young children
knew only a few w ords of G reek. T he A lbanians also expanded during the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries into O ld Serbia, particularly the Kosovo
region. Since m any Serbians already had m igrated northw ard, the A lbanians
were able to assim ilate those th at rem ained behind. T hus this area has re
m ained predom inately A lbanian, even though it is now a p art of the Y ugo
slav state.
T he m ost extensive m igrations during the O ttom an period occurred
am ong the Serbian people. W ith the conquest of Serbia in the fifteenth cen
tury, large num bers crossed the D anube to H ungary while others m igrated to
D alm atia, Bosnia, and C roatia. M ore Serbians crossed over into H ungary at
the end of the seventeenth century following the defeat of the H apsburg
arm ies th a t they had supported. T hese m igrations, together with the ravaging
effects of the A u strian-T urkish wars, left northern Serbia sparsely populated.
T he m ountaineers of O ld Serbia and w estern M acedonia took advantage
of the opportunity for better land and m igrated in large num bers into the area
betw een the M orava and D rina rivers. A t the sam e time other m ountaineers
were m igrating w estw ard from B osnia and D alm atia to w estern Slavonia, and
from M ontenegro an d H erzegovina to w estern C roatia. These population
m ovem ents had im portant repercussions. T hey extended the sway of the
Serbian people considerably further to the west and to the north, and they
established in southern H ungary a large Serbian population th a t was to con
tribute as m uch to the aw akening of the T urkish-ruled Serbs as the overseas
G reek com m unities did to their com patriots at home.
In addition to these individual waves of m igrations there was a com
m on tendency am ong the B alkan C hristians to move out of the u rban centers
in order to avoid the T urkish officials and garrisons. A s a result the towns
becam e denationalized. D uring m ost of the O ttom an period they reflected
the nationality of those who held political and econom ic power. Accordingly,
the towns, regardless of their location, consisted largely of Turkish artisans,
adm inistrators, and soldiers, and of G reek and Jewish traders and artisans.
W estern travelers, betw een the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, described

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


the principal B alkan cities as follows: Belgrade A m ass of buildings and

extensive suburbs inhabited by various races, T urks, G reeks, Jews, H ungar
ians, D alm atians, and m any o thers ; 1 Sofia A place so wholly Turkish,
th at there is nothing in it th at appears m ore antique than the T urks them
selves ; 2 Philippopolis A lm ost wholly inhabited by G reeks ; 3 and A drianople M ost of the rich tradesm en are Jew s. 4
W hen a Serb, R um anian, or B ulgarian, w ent into a tow n in his n a
tive land he found him self a foreigner. This anom alous situation continued
until these people gained their independence and until trade and industry
gained m om entum . T hen the towns grew fairly rapidly and in doing so drew
their population from the surrounding countryside. In this m anner the n a
tional character of the tow ns gradually changed until the nationality of the
land recaptured the towns. This transform ation caused serious frontier dis
putes in border regions. In southern A lbania and M acedonia the G reeks
claim ed certain regions because of their past or even continued control of
the urban centers, while their opponents pointed to the predom inantly nonG reek population in the countryside.
The O ttom an E m pire was divided into two parts for adm inistrative
purposes. The E uropean section was headed by the beylerbey (lord of lords)
of Rum elia and the A siatic by the beylerbey of A natolia. W ith the great
expansion of the em pire under Selim and Suleim an this simple division be
cam e adm inistratively cum bersom e. T he num ber Of beylerbeys was then
steadily increased until by the end of the sixteenth century, when the em pire
reached its greatest extent, they num bered about thirty-five. A t th e ' same
tim e their title was changed from beylerbey to veli, and the territories they
adm inistered were know n as eyalets rath er than beylerbeyliks. A typical eyalet
in the Balkan Peninsula com prised a considerable area: for exam ple, M orea,
Bosnia, or Tem esvar. E ach veli had a staff for the adm inistration of his eya
let. This included a mufti (interpreter of the K o ra n ), a reis effendi (recording
secretary ), a defterdar (tre a su re r), and a considerable num ber of clerks.
Below the veli in the adm inistrative hierarchy stood the sanjakbey,
who adm inistered a sanjak, of which there were several in each eyalet. E ach
sanjakbey had a num ber of assistants corresponding to those of the veli. In
the sm aller towns the sanjakbeys were represented by the subashis, who were
supplied with a sufficient num ber of janissaries to m aintain the peace.
T he position of the C hristian peasants governed by these officials
varied considerably from region to region. W hen the T urks overran the Bal
k an Peninsula they abolished the feudal arrangem ents prevailing under the
form er Byzantine, L atin, Serbian, and B ulgarian rulers. In their place they
introduced a feudal system of their ow n which was m ore lenient and cen
tralized. They granted fiefs in the newly conquered lands to their m ost de
serving w arriors. As noted in an earlier chapter, these fief holders, or spahis,
were of two ranks, the ziam s with large fiefs (ziam ets) and the tim ariots who

1 00

Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

held sm all fiefs (tim a rs). In tim e of w ar each spahi was required to rep o rt
for service with a num ber of arm ed followers proportionate to the size of his
fief. W hen the em pire was at its height, there were approxim ately twelve
thousand fiefs in the B alkan lands.
Turkish im m igrants settled down and actually occupied the land only
in certain localities noted above. In the rest of the peninsula the T urks n o r
m ally parceled out the m ost fertile plains areas as fiefs to the spahis. This in
tu rn caused a considerable num ber of G reek and Slavic peasants to m igrate
to nearby m ountainous regions. Peasants who lived in the m ountainous areas
th a t were not divided into fiefs paid taxes directly to the governm ent tax
farm ers. T he taxes consisted prim arily of the light head tax required from all
non-M oslem s and also the tithe which norm ally took one tenth of the farm
produce. Peasants on the m ilitary fiefs paid taxes to the spahi or to his rep
resentative. These taxes were sim ilar to those paid to the governm ent. They
com prised the head tax which the spahi transm itted to the treasury the
custom ary tithe, and light m oney dues depending on the am ount of land the
p easant cultivated.
M any peasants lived on fiefs not held by spahis. In fact, the spahis
controlled less than half the enfeoffed land of the em pire. T he rem ainder
com prised fiefs that were set aside for the support of higher adm inistrative
officers, m em bers of the im perial family, and the sultan himself. A nother
large category of peasants lived on land know n as vakf, which was not under
feudal tenure. V akf land was designated for the support of religious, educa
tional, and charitable enterprises, such as schools, libraries, public baths,
m osques, and convents for dervishes. Some of this land originally had been
set aside by sultans. P rivate individuals later contributed m ore parcels of
land. Since no vakf property could be confiscated, it increased steadily in
extent until it included, according to one estim ate, a third of all the arable
land of the em pire.
T he average B alkan peasant during the early Q ttom an period tilled
his land under better conditions than his counterpart in C hristian Europe.
O ne advantage was the lighter tax burden. H e had hereditary use of a definite
tract of land, which he regarded as his own and for which he paid only the
head tax, the tithe, and a few m inor additional imposts. A nother advantage
was the freedom from the feudal services and seigniorial jurisdiction charac
teristic of W estern feudalism . T he spahi had no legal right of lordship and
justice over the peasants living in his fief. H e was not allowed to eject them
by force or, theoretically at least, to prevent them from m oving and settling
elsewhere. H e was perm itted only to collect the custom ary dues in retu rn for
which he gave m ilitary service in tim e of war. In other words, the B alkan
p easant enjoyed the great advantage of being regarded simply as a source of
revenue. This basic difference betw een W estern and O ttom an feudalism ex
plains the favorable position of the B alkan peasant a least for as long as
O ttom an feudalism rem ained vigorous and unim paired. U ndoubtedly there
was considerable difference betw een the theory and the practice of Turkish

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule

1 01

feudalism , even when the em pire was unim paired. N evertheless, the bulk of
contem porary evidence indicates clearly th at the B alkan peoples at this early
period enjoyed substantial advantages denied to their counterparts in the
W est.
T he adm inistrative and tax system described above is a simplified
blueprint of O ttom an rule in the Balkans. But the blueprint does not apply
to all sections of the peninsula. Regional conditions varied too greatly to
m ake com plete uniform ity possible. Also, O ttom an adm inistration developed
in an ad hoc fashion. During the period of conquest special local arrange
ments and concessions were com m on. O nce m ade, they were likely to be
perpetuated by the inertia and conservative spirit of the em pire. Thus we find
in every section of the peninsula num erous variations and exceptions to the
general pattern of governm ent.
O ttom an authorities custom arily granted special privileges to groups,
villages, and even entire districts th at they considered to be contributing in
some m anner to the w elfare and security of the em pire. G roups th at received
partial or com plete tax exem ption included miners, bridge builders, ferryboat
operators, rice cultivators, official couriers, and guards of bridges, forests, and
m ountain passes. Also, certain villages were freed from taxation because they
produced some valuable com m odity and shipped a stipulated portion of their
output to C onstantinople. O ther villages were granted com plete self-governm ent as well as tax exem ption in return for direct contributions to the arm ed
forces. Exam ples of this arrangem ent were certain B ulgarian villages that
provided the O ttom an arm y with regular and auxiliary troops, and also cer
tain G reek islands th at sent an annual quota of sailors to the O ttom an navy.
Some areas A thens and Rhodes, for exam ple were rem oved from the reg
ular imperial adm inistration and enjoyed a large degree of self-government
because they were the perm anent appanages of m embers of the royal family.
Finally, certain regions received at the tim e of their conquest special con
cessions th at were observed thereafter. Typical examples were the city of
Y anina in northw estern G reece and the Tim ok area along the D anube. In
the latter place hereditary Serbian leaders dispensed justice, collected taxes,
and retained arm ed guards with no T urkish interference until 1833.
The m ost significant exceptions to regular adm inistrative procedure
were to be found in certain inaccessible m ountain areas that the T urks could
not subjugate com pletely o r did not deem w orth the effort to do so. This was
true in northern A lbania, where the O ttom an authorities encountered so m uch
resistance th at in the m id-sixteenth century they granted com plete autonom y
and tax exem ption in retu rn for contingents of fighting men. A sim ilar situa
tion prevailed in M ontenegro. U ntil the late seventeenth century the M onte
negrin m ountaineers paid the head tax with reasonable regularity and in re
turn were allowed to m anage their own affairs. But in 1688 they began their

Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

1 02

long struggle for independence, which they continued w ith varying fortunes
until their final success in 1799. T urkish authority was equally tenuous in
the m ountainous Souli and C heim arra districts of northw estern G reece and
in the M ane district of southern G reece. T he inhabitants of these areas paid
with m uch reluctance and irregularity an annual tribute to C onstantinople.
B ut in their internal affairs they enjoyed com plete autonom y, recognizing the
authority only of their own tribal chieftains.
T he regions we have considered to this point were included in the
custom ary eyalet adm inistrative units. T heoretically they were subject to the
regular im perial governm ent, though in practice their only connection with
C onstantinople was the periodic tribute. W e will consider now the status of
four rem aining regions: M oldavia, W allachia, T ransylvania, and Ragusa.
T hese were unique in th at they were not divided into eyalets and were not
under jurisdiction, actual or theoretical, of O ttom an officials.
T he Principalities of M oldavia and W allachia may be considered to
gether, since they w ere both inhabited by R um anians and both stood in a
sim ilar relationship to C onstantinople. We noted in C hapter 4 th at the T urks
overran W allachia in the fifteenth century and M oldavia in the sixteenth.
T hey granted com plete autonom y to the two principalities in return for the
paym ent of tribute. They also allowed the R um anian nobles or boyars to
elect their own princes or hospodars. A lthough this practice continued for
some tim e, it soon becam e meaningless. T he Candidates for office custom
arily bribed the sultan s m inisters for their favor, which was decisive. Thus
the hospodars followed one another in quick succession to the profit of the
officials in the capital who pulled the strings. W hen P eter the G reat ap
proached the principalities at the head of his arm y in 1711, both hospodars
proclaim ed them selves in his favor. F rom then on the O ttom an governm ent
appointed to the two thrones only m em bers of a group of G reek adm inistra
tors and financiers know n as Phanariotes. Since these Phanariotes cam e from
C onstantinople they could be appointed and rem oved w ithout any difficulty.
This arrangem ent continued until the G reek revolution of 1821, after which
the Phanariotes were replaced once m ore by native R um anian hospodars.
B ut by th at tim e the O tto m an governm ent no longer held undisputed dom ina
tion over the principalities. R ussian influence and intervention were becom
ing increasingly strong until the C rim ean W ar m ade possible the creation of
an autonom ous and united R um anian state in 1861.*
T he third of the four autonom ous B alkan dependencies of the O tto
m an E m pire was the kingdom of T ransylvania. Its population was predom i
nantly R um anian, though with large H ungarian and G erm an m inorities. B e
fore the T urkish conquest T ransylvania had been a province of the H ungarian
kingdom . W hen Suleim an overran H ungary he granted T ransylvania an au
tonom ous tributary status. His successors respected this arrangem ent, allow
ing the native nobility to elect their kings with little interference. A fter the
* See C hapter 18.

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


failure of the Turks to take V ienna in 1683 their influence declined in T ra n

sylvania. A few years later, by the T reaty of Karlowitz in 1699, they ceded
the entire area to the A ustrians. It rem ained under the H apsburgs until W orld
W ar I, after which it was incorporated in the enlarged R um anian kingdom .*
T he fourth and final Balkan dependency of the O ttom an E m pire was
the tiny city-republic of D ubrovnik o r Ragusa. Founded in the seventh cen
tury by fugitives fleeing before the invading Slavs, it soon becam e the leading
com m ercial center of the D alm atian coast. F o r centuries its m erchants and
literary m en played a leading role in the econom ic and cultural life of the
peninsula. B ut it never possessed the resources necessary for com plete inde
pendence. Accordingly, the R agusans paid tribute to the m ost powerful neigh
boring state in order to be free to carry on their trade. F irst they recognized
the sovereignty of Venice, then of H ungary, and finally of the O ttom an E m
pire. T he Turkish conquest of the B alkans proved a boon for the Ragusans.
The num erous custom s barriers erected by the form er rulers were replaced
by low and uniform duties applying to the whole peninsula. Thus the R agu
sans not only accepted T urkish overlordship but actively opposed V enetian
attem pts to gain control of adjacent territory. This m utually satisfactory re
lationship with the T urks lasted until the early nineteenth century, when
N apoleon acquired all D alm atia and incorporated Ragusa in his newly cre
ated province of Illyria. In 1815 the city passed to the H apsburgs and re
m ained under their rule until it becam e a p art of the new Yugoslav state in
In conclusion, the rule of the O ttom an sultans in the Balkans might
be com pared to th at of the C hinese em perors in E astern Asia. The lands
south of the D anube were ruled, with certain exceptions, directly from C on
stantinople, just as the territory south of the G reat W all was ruled, with sim
ilar exceptions, directly from Peking. Likewise, the status of M oldavia, W al
lachia, and T ransylvania resem bled th at of M ongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet.
So long as the central governm ent rem ained strong, these outlying regions
acknow ledged its sovereignty and paid the custom ary tribute. B ut when it
becam e w eak, these autonom ous regions were the first to com e under the
control or influence of powerful neighboring em pires Russia and A ustria
in the case of the B alkans, R ussia and B ritain in the case of E astern Asia.

It is an irony of history th at the patriarch of C onstantinople enjoyed
greater ecclesiastical and secular jurisdiction under the O ttom an sultans than
under the Byzantine em perors. O ne reason for this anom alous situation was
the desire of M oham m ed II to p erpetuate the rift betw een the C atholic and
O rthodox worlds. A ccordingly, he arranged for the election to the patriarchal
seat of G ennadius Scholarius, an em inent O rthodox jurist and a strong oppo
* See C hapter 30.


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

nent of the L atin church. M oham m ed also granted G ennadius a berat or o rd i

nance defining the new status of the church.
T he berat declared the patriarch to be untaxable and irrem ovable.
It assigned to him and to his synod the authority to settle all m atters of doc
trine, to control and discipline all m em bers of the church, to m anage all
church property, and to levy dues on laity and clergy alike. T he b erat also
granted full freedom of conscience. O rthodox C hristians were free to keep
sacred books and icons in their hom es and to attend church services u n
m olested. Finally, the b erat invested the patriarch with considerable civil au
thority as the head not only of the O rthodox church but also of the O rthodox
com m unity or millet. Ecclesiastical tribunals could pass on m atters concern
ing m arriage, divorce, and inheritance. G radually they extended their juris
diction to all civil cases since C hristian litigants usually preferred the verdict
of the bishop to th a t of the Turkish kadi. T hus the O rthodox bishops func
tioned in their dioceses virtually as prefects over the C hristian population as
well as ecclesiastical prelates. A nd the patriarch in C onstantinople was not
only the head of the O rthodox C hurch and of the O rthodox millet, b u t also
a recognized O ttom an official, holding the rank of vizir, and serving as inter
m ediary betw een the O rthodox C hristians and the im perial governm ent.
T he oth er factor explaining the increased authority of the patriarch
was the sudden extension of the im perial frontiers from the environs of C on
stantinople to the valley of the D anube. This m ade possible a corresponding
extension of the frontiers of patriarchal jurisdiction. D uring the preceding
centuries the trend had been in the opposite direction. T he decline of Byzan
tium and the rise of the Bulgarian and Serbian em pires had led to the estab
lishm ent of independent B ulgarian and Serbian churches and to the corre
sponding contraction of the C onstantinople patriarchate. Conversely, the
disappearance of the B ulgarian and Serbian states with the Turkish invasion
was followed also by the disappearance of their respective churches. The B ul
garian p atriarchate, which had been established originally in the time of T sar
Simeon, cam e to an end in 1393. Likewise, the Serbian patriarchate, which
had arisen under T sar D ushan, was abolished in 1459. D uring the following
centuries the ecclesiastical center of the Balkan Slavs was the B ulgarian A rch
bishopric of O hrid, which retained a certain degree of autonom y. B ut the seat
of ecclesiastical authority was now definitely in C onstantinople. The jurisdic
tion of the patriarch, like th at of the sultan, was unchallenged throughout the
B alkans.
It rem ained unchallenged until 1557, when the G rand Vizir M oham
m ed Sokolli (S okolovich), who was of Serbian origin, used his influence to
establish the Serbian P atriarchate of Ipek (P e c ). F o r over a century this p a
triarchate played an im portant role in Serbian national life. D uring the series
of H apsburg-O ttom an wars in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth' cen
turies, the p atriarchate threw in its lot with the H apsburgs. But the latter
finally were forced to w ithdraw across the D anube, leaving the Ipek p a tria r
chate in an im possible position. A t this tim e when the Serbians had been

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


discredited, the P hanariotes and other G reek elem ents were gaining influence
in C onstantinople. This com bination of circum stances led to the abolition of
the Ipek p atriarch ate in 1766 and of the O hrid archbishopric the following
T he C onstantinople patriarch ate once m ore reigned suprem e in the
peninsula. It continued to do so as long as the B alkan peoples rem ained sub
ject to O ttom an authority. B ut with the rise of national consciousness and
the establishm ent of independent nation-states we note a repetition of w hat
happened in the late Byzantine period. T he im perial frontiers shrank back
tow ard C onstantinople and the scope of patriarchal jurisdiction contracted
correspondingly. O ne after another the various B alkan states gained inde
pendent o r autocephalous churches until, by the end of W orld W ar I, the
C onstantinople patriarch ate exercised authority only in C onstantinople and
its environs.
In retrospect, the position of the O rthodox C hurch under O ttom an
rule appears extraordinarily favorable. B ut a distinction m ust be draw n be
tween pap er privileges and actual practice. T he C hristians had a substantial
degree of religious freedom but this did not m ean religious equality. N onM oslems were forbidden to ride horses or to b ear arms. T hey were required
to w ear a p articular costum e to distinguish them from the true believers.
T heir dwellings could not be loftier than those of the M oslems. They could
not repair their churches or ring their bells except by special perm ission,
which was rarely granted. They were required to pay a special capitation tax
levied on all non-M oslem adult males in place of military service. A nd until
the seventeenth century the O rthodox C hristians paid the tribute in children
from which the Jew s and the A rm enians were exem pted.
In addition to these discrim inatory obligations and disabilities, nonM oslems were always subject to illegal violations of their privileges. T he sul
tan might confirm the institutional rights of the church but this was no
guarantee against outbursts of M oslem fanaticism or arbitrary actions by
provincial officials. C hurch property all too frequently was confiscated and the
clergy hum iliated and persecuted. T he sultans them selves changed their atti
tude tow ard the O rthodox C hurch as they cam e to realize th at there was no
danger of a united C hristian assault. T h eir form er deference to an esteem ed
ally therupon changed to scorn for a pow erless subject.

O ttom an religious policy is one of the m ajor factors determ ining the
historical developm ent of the B alkan peoples. W e have seen th a t the position
of the O rthodox C hristians u nder the M oslem T urks was far from ideal. They
suffered from various disabilities and discrim inations. In later years they suf
fered also from arbitrary exactions and occasional violence. D espite this, they
enjoyed m uch m ore freedom than did the various religious m inorities in con
tem porary C hristendom . By way of illustration it is sufficient to m ention the


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

plight of the H uguenots in C atholic F rance, the Catholics in A nglican E ng

land, the O rthodox in C atholic Poland, the M oslem s in C atholic Spain, and
the Jew s in all C hristian lands.
M ore revealing is the difference in the m anner with which the T urks
and the V enetians treated their G reek O rthodox subjects. T he V enetians in
variably forbade the appointm ent of O rthodox bishops, com pelled the lower
clergy to obey the Catholic hierarchy, and supported the latter in their efforts
to convert the population to Catholicism . W hen the F rench traveler M otraye
landed at M odon on the west coast of the Peloponnesus in 1710, he discov
ered th at the tow nspeople were extrem ely hostile tow ard their V enetian over
lords, who had gained possession of the Peloponnesus by the T reaty of K arlowitz in 1699. A m ajor grievance was the unceasing proselytism of the
C atholic clergy. O ne of the local inhabitants com plained to M otraye that
their priests come to us to talk against o ur religion, bothering us incessantly
and urging us to em brace theirs, som ething th at the T urks never dream ed of
doing. O n the contrary, they gave us all the liberty th at we could have wished
fo r____ B
T he significance of this difference betw een O ttom an and W estern re
ligious policy is th at it explains in large p art the success of B alkan C hristian
ity in surviving the centuries of M oslem rule with rem arkably few losses.
M ass conversions to Islam occurred only in a few parts of the peninsula, the
m ost im portant being A lbania and Bosnia. In both regions the m ajority of the
population had turned away from C hristianity by the middle of the seven
teenth century. T he inhabitants of certain parts of Bulgaria also accepted
Islam and cam e to be know n as the B ulgarian-speaking Pom aks. A m ong the
G reeks the only large-scale shift occurred on the island Of Crete. T he T urks
captured the island in 1669 and w ithin a century half of its inhabitants had
becom e M oslems. This shift did not have a perm anent effect because the
C retan M oslem s em igrated to T urkey w hen the island passed under G reek
In some cases special local circum stances explain these conversions.
T he large num ber of Bogomils, harried by both the O rthodox and C atholic
churches, contributed greatly to the Islam ization of Bosnia. T he C retan is
landers appear to have been influenced by the striking contrast betw een the
rapacity and intolerance of their form er V enetian m asters and the easygoing,
laissez-faire policy of the T urks. In other parts of the peninsula a com bina
tion of factors p rom pted the acceptance of Islam . Some C hristians wished
to escape the child-tribute and the financial exactions, though the latter were
never as burdensom e as the taxes im posed by the V enetians in their B alkan
possessions. O th er C hristians were driven to Islam by the apathy and igno
rance of some of their clergy. Still others com m itted apostasy lightheartedly
because of a tendency tow ard cultural assim ilation between C hristian and
M oslem com m unities. This was especially true in A lbania, where contem po
rary observers noted th at m any Moslems baptized their children, becartie (he

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


godfathers of C hristian children, and attended the festivals for C hristian

W hatever the com bination of factors th at prevailed in specific re
gions, the im portant point is th at the B alkan Christians were never subjected
to system atic and sustained proselytism . They never experienced the persecu
tion th at the M oslem s and the Jews suffered in Spain. H ad they done so, the
religious m ap of the B alkans probably w ould be quite different today. A t least
two sultans, Selim I and M urad III, did consider seriously the m ass exter
m ination of all C hristian subjects who refused to em brace Islam . They were
dissuaded from their project by the argum ents of their religious advisers and
also by the prospect of losing the revenue from the capitation tax. B ut if they
had carried out their plan it is difficult to believe that they would not have
been substantially successful, given the defenselessness of the C hristians and
the prestige and attraction of Islam at the time.
If Islam had tirum phed in large areas it would have involved m ore
than simply a shift in the balance of religions. Religious affiliation frequently
has determ ined national consciousness in the Balkans. T housands of A lba
nians and Vlachs becam e Hellenized through their m em bership in the G reek
O rthodox C hurch. Likewise, thousands of G reeks on the island of Crete con
sidered them selves T urks and chose to em igrate to T urkey because of their
M oslem faith. T hus if a large portion of the B alkan peoples had becom e
M oslem s, not only their religious but also thpir cultural and political develop
m ent would have been altered to a fundam ental degree.
It is often stated that the great contribution of O rthodoxy during the
Turkish era was that it preserved the religion and culture, and hence the
national identity, of the B alkan C hristians. T his claim is valid, but it should
be noted at the sam e tim e th at the O rthodox C hurch was able to accom plish
its mission because it functioned under conditions which, if not favorable, at
least were not uncom prom isingly hostile as in the W est. T herein lies the sig
nificance of O ttom an religious policy for the historical developm ent of the
B alkan peoples.
T he T urks had little influence on B alkan culture. O ne reason was
th at they were separated from their subjects by religious and social barriers.
A nother was th at the T urk s resided m ostly in the towns. A ccordingly, their
cultural influence was lim ited largely to urban institutions. In fact, Balkan
towns took on a m arked O riental ch aracter with their bazaars and m osques
and narrow streets lined by flimsy w ooden houses. T urkish influence on the
B alkan languages was substantial. T he few books w ritten in the B alkan ver
naculars during or im m ediately following the T urkish period contain a high
percentage of w ords of T urkish origin. T hese w ords were gradually elim inated
during the decades following liberation, so th a t eventually they were lim
ited mostly to m atters relating to urb an life. T hus an A m erican who dines in
a G reek or Serbian restau ran t in the U nited States today will find a large


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

p ro p o rtio n of T urkish w ords o n the m enu pilaf for rice, shish-kebab for
m eat grilled on skewers, m oussaka for eggplant pt, and dolm a for vine
leaves stuffed with chopped meat.
T h e superficiality of T urkish influence allowed the B alkan peoples to
develop their respective cultures freely. In each case they m ade their m ost
im portant contributions in their folk literature. This was usually anonym ous,
com posed in the vernacular, and passed on from generation to generation by
w ord of m outh. C ertain characteristics are com m on to all B alkan folk songs.
M ost striking is the personification of nature. M ountain peaks dispute with
each other; plants and anim als hold allegorical conversations; and birds bring
aid, give advice, and deliver love messages.
Some of the m ost artistic and lively of the G reek folk songs are
know n as the klephtika. These extoll the feats of the klephts, or Robin H ood
outlaw s, who took to the m ountains and started a guerrilla resistance that
lasted until the winning of national independence. A m ong the m ost popular
of these songs is T he D eath of the K lepht, a piece th at is typical not only
in its m ilitancy but also in its fearless and nonm etaphysical attitude tow ard
death and the afterlife.
E at and drink, my com rades, rejoice and let us be gay,
nothing ails me but a wound!
H ow bitter is the wound, how venom ous the bullet!
Come, lift me up and set me yonder.
Come, some of you brave lads, and take me
and carry me up to a high hill.
Strew green branches; then set me down,
and from the priests fetch me sweet wine
to wash the wound, for 1 am hurt,
and take my knife, my silver scimitar,
and dig my grave and build my coffin,
wide, long, room y enough for two
to stand erect, fight, take cover, reload,
and on my right side, leave a window,
so that birds may fly in and out, the nightingales of Spring.6

M ost B alkan ballads are of m oderate length or quite short. The one
exception is Serbian epic poetry. This is one of the m ost artistic creations of
all the ballad literature of E urope. T he epics usually are divided into nine
cycles th at present a fascinating picture of the history of the Serbian people.
Starting with the medieval kingdom s, they continue through the Turkish
conquest and occupation, the resistance of the haiduks (corresponding to the
G reek k lep h ts), the struggle for independence in the early nineteenth century,
and finally the events of the postliberation period. T he Serbian heroes in these
epics were adopted by the neighboring South Slavic peoples and glorified in
their respective literatures. This is particularly true of the burly, blustering,
impulsively chivalrous haiduk, M arko Kraljevich. M arko is a spoiled child.
He is strong, self-willed, capricious, at times cruel, but always brave, alvyays

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


fighting and hating the T urks, and always protecting the weak and the friend
less. M arko also is a fabulous drinker, and so is his steed, Sharatz. N either
touches anything but wine. H alf he drinks himself, half he gives to Sharatz.
These qualities endeared M arko to all South Slavs, and he becam e
their greatest hero. O ne evening his m other asked him to settle down.
W eary is thy m other of washing from thy shirts the crim son stain
But do thou now yoke ox to plow, and plow the hill and the plain.

Hum bly M arko prom ises to obey his m other. T he next m orning he goes out
with oxen and plow. B ut he knows nothing about husbandry. H e starts the
oxen cross country and tears up the tsars highway.
Some janissaries com e thereby; three packs of gold had they:
Plow not the tsar his highway, Prince M arko, said they then.
Ye Turks, m ar not my plowing! he answered them again.
Plow not the tsar his highway, Prince M arko, they said anew.
Ye Turks, m ar not my plowing! he answered thereunto.
But M arko was vext; in anger he lifted ox and plow,
A nd the Turkish janissaries he slew them at a blow,
A nd their three packs of treasure to his m other he bore away:
Lo, m other, w hat my plowing hath won for thee to-day! 7


Turning from the folk arts to the w ritten literature and form al learn
ing of these ccnturics, we enter another world utterly different in every re
spect. Here again we find certain com m on characteristics prevailing through
out the peninsula. T he m ost basic was the all-pervading influence of the
O rthodox C hurch. In the theocratically organized society of this period it nat
urally dom inated education, w ritten literature, and general intellectual life.
T he few teachers invariably wore priestly robes. T he few books, with unim
p o rtant exceptions, were theological treatises. In place of several B alkan liter
atures there existed only one O rthodox ecclesiastical literature, w ritten either
in a debased classical G reek incom prehensible to m ost G reeks, or in an
archaic C hurch Slavonic incom prehensible to most Slavs.
A second com m on characteristic was the terribly low level of learn
ing. A m ong the G reeks, for exam ple, the m ost distinguished scholars had
fled to Italy w ith the T urkish invasion. P atriarch G ennadius attem pted to
m aintain standards b y . establishing in 1454 the Patriarchal A cadem y. F or
centuries this institution fulfilled a m ost im portant function in training the
Phanariote adm inistrators who filled the top posts in both em pire and church.
B ut even this school operated w ith difficulty, being forced to close down
periodically because of lack of funds. In the G reek provinces conditions were
infinitely worse. C hurch schools appeared sporadically in a few tow ns, strug
gled along with m eager m eans, and then closed down. T he level of learning
declined from generation to generation, reaching a low point at the end of


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

the sixteenth century. Persons with even a m odicum of education were so

scarce th at church positions rem ained vacant. M any villages in central and
n o rth ern G reece were left w ithout priests. E ven archbishops had difficulty in
writing their own nam es correctly.
Sim ilar conditions prevailed am ongst the non-G reek peoples of the
peninsula. Before the T urkish conquest the outstanding cultural center in the
north ern Balkans was the B ulgarian capital, T irnovo. T he B ulgarian p a tri
arch, E uthym ius, was the m ost learned Slav of his time. Pupils cam e to his
m onastery from Serbia, R um ania, an d Russia. Tirnovo cam e to be know n
as the A thens of the South Slavs. B ut in 1393 the T urks captured T irnovo,
forcing Euthym ius and his disciples to flee to neighboring countries. In the
following centuries learning throughout the northern B alkans sank to the same
low level we noted in the G reek lands. T he Bulgarians, who form erly had
been the m ost advanced, now w ere left the farthest behind. T he R um anians
h ad the advantage of a certain degree of autonom y w hich later allowed their
m ore enlightened princes to endow schools and establish printing presses.
T he G reeks and the Serbians could look forw ard to econom ic aid and intel
lectual stim ulus from their m ore fo rtunate com patriots living in foreign
countries. B ut the Bulgarians had neither autonom y at hom e nor the pros
pect of assistance from abroad. This explains in part why the Bulgarians were
to lag behind the G reeks and the Serbians in developing a sense of national
consciousness and in winning their independence.
A third com m on cultural characteristic was the phenom enon of bilinguism. This arose because of an im portant difference betw een the linguistic
developm ent of the L atin W est and the G reek E ast. Classical Latin was too
closely identified with the R om an E m pire to be able to survive its collapse.
H ence the developm ent of several R om ance languages during the medieval
period. In the E ast, on the oth er hand, the survival of the Byzantine E m
pire to the fifteenth century, together w ith the enorm ous prestige of the
classical language and literature, com bined to prevent, the ancient G reek
language from developing along the sam e lines as classical Latin. Instead,
the ancient language was preserved in a corrupted form know n as the katharevousa o r p u re language. This was the language of the cultured G reeks,
in the sam e m anner th a t literary T urkish was the language of the cultured
O sm anlis, m entioned in the preceding chapter. B ut the katharevousa was
as unintelligible to the G reek p easant as literary T urkish was to the A natolian
peasant. D uring the intervening centuries a dem otic or vernacular language
had developed with simplified gram m atical constructions and with a certain
num ber of Slavic, A lbanian, T urkish, and Italian w ords. This dem otic lan
guage differed as m uch from ancient G reek as m odern English does from
th at of C haucers time. N evertheless the katharevousa rem ains the official
G reek language to the present day, creating serious educational and literary
problem s.*
* See C hapter 34.

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


Bilinguism was a problem in the n orthern B alkans as well as am ong

the G reeks. In addition to their respective cultures, the South Slavs and the
R um anians h ad an artificial literary language know n as C hurch Slavonic.
This language dates back to the ninth century when the Bulgarian T sar Boris
accepted the Byzantine form of C hristianity and encouraged the m issionary
w ork of Clem ent and his followers. T hese m issionaries translated the H oly
Scriptures and church books into an archaic Slavic perm eated by G reek con
struction form s and ecclesiastical term inology. This C hurch Slavonic lan
guage continued to be used for centuries. It becam e the official ecclesiastical
and literary language, not only of the Bulgarians, but also of the other peo
ples who adopted O rthodox C hristianity the Serbians, the R um anians, and
the Russians. F or these people the C hurch Slavonic was as artificial and in
com prehensible as the katharevousa was for the G reeks. B ut w hereas the
G reeks retained their p u re language und er the influence of their classical
tradition, the other O rthodox peoples were less attached to the C hurch
Slavonic and from the seventeenth century onw ard gradually dropped it as
a literary language.
T he fourth and final characteristic of B alkan culture was its antiW esternism . T he church itself was profoundly hostile to the W est. G ennadius
becam e the first patriarch under the T urks precisely because he was irre
concilably anti-C atholic and anti-W estern. He and m ost of his successors op
posed the W est as the hom e of C atholicism and Protestantism and as the
birthplace of the Renaissance. They rejected vigorously everything the R en
aissance represented the exaltation of reason in place of dogm a, the tu rn to
G reek antiquity, and the preference for Plato rather th an A ristotle. In short,
B alkan O rthodoxy opposed the W est not only because it was heretical but
also because it was becom ing m odern. T he inevitable result of this opposition
was the intellectual isolation and stagnation of the B alkan peoples.
T he one exception, significantly enough, was in R agusa and in the
V enetian-held G reek islands. T here we find an entirely different civilization
secular, sophisticated, individualistic, and m aintaining close ties with the
W est. Its w ritten literature was not church-dom inated as was the case on the
m ainland. Instead, it consisted of epic poetry, lyrics, and dram a, com parable
to the literature of Italy at this time. T he greatest literary creation of the
m odern G reek people is the epic poem Erotokritos com posed about 1650 by
the C retan w riter, V incenzo K ornaros. It is notew orthy th at this w ork is
w ritten in the vernacular dem otic ra th e r th an in the artificial katharevousa
favored by the church on the m ainland. Likewise in Ragusa, Ivan G undulich
w rote a fam ous epic poem , Osman, in which he glorified his beloved city and
anticipated the liberation and unification of all South Slavs.
Such w riting and such ideas w ere com pletely foreign to the peoples
of the m ainland. T heir intellectual horizon did not extend beyond the con
cepts of faith and local com m unity affairs. Living in a static and self-con
tained O rthodox theocracy, they rem ained oblivious to the new learning,


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

the scientific advances, and the burgeoning of the arts th at were transform
ing and revivifying the W estern world.
T he hostility of B alkan O rthodoxy to the W est might be com pared
w ith the opposition of R ussian O rthodoxy against Peter the G reat. In fact,
P atriarch D ositheus of Jerusalem actively participated in the cam paign against
the tsa rs W esternization program and particularly against his plan for an
A cadem y of Sciences organized on W estern lines. T he O rthodox leaders
failed in R ussia because in th at country the state pow er was arrayed against
them . But in the B alkan Peninsula the O ttom an officials were uninterested
and the peasantry inert. C onsequently, the O rthodox hierarchy was the u n
challenged arbiter in all m atters intellectual. A nd it rem ained unchallenged
until the eighteenth century, when, as we shall see in C hapter 9, new forces
produced new classes with new ideas that spelled the beginning of the end of
the age of theoracy.
p a x o t t o m a n ic a
O ne of the m ost com m on m yths relating to B alkan history is th at the
five centuries of T urkish rule were centuries of unrelieved tryanny and op
pression. It is often stated th at during th at period the C hristians had yearned
for freedom and had aw aited im patiently for an opportunity to rise against
the infidel conqueror. This in terpretation fails to explain the actual course of
events. T he various B alkan peoples adm ittedly outnum bered the Turks.
T hey lived in com pact groups and retained their languages and religions. If
they had been oppressed and ready for revolt, they would have caused more
trouble for the T urks than they actually did. But for m ost of this period the
T urks had less trouble ruling their C hristian subjects in the B alkans than
their M oslem subjects in Asia.
T he explanation is th at the com ing of the T urks was for m any B alkan
peasants a boon rath er than a disaster. T he preceding Byzantine em perors,
G reek despots, F rankish nobles, V enetian signors, and B ulgarian and Serbian
princes h ad for tw o centuries ravaged the peninsula with incessant w ars and
severe exploitation. T he O ttom an conquerors wiped out these dynasties and
ruling classes, and put an end to their feuds and extortions. It does not follow
th at the O ttom an invasion was a pleasant or painless experience. M assacres
and mass enslavem ent were all too com m on. But once the shock of conquest
h ad passed, the condition of the subject peoples in m ost regions took a tu rn
for the better.
M uch contem porary evidence supports this conclusion. M ost im pres
sive is the testim ony of M ichael K onstantinovich, a Serbian who was taken
p risoner in battle with the T urks in 1454. H e was forced to enter the janis
sary corps and for nine years fought u n d er their b an n er in A sia M inor and
th e Balkans. In 1463 he escaped to the H ungarians and later settled in
Poland. T here he w rote his m em oirs in which he exhorted all peoples who
honor Jesus C hrist to help the [Balkan] C hristians against the pagans.
K onstantinovich was a Serbian patriot and an ardent C hristian who clung to

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


his faith despite generous treatm ent and rap id prom otion by the Turks. It is
all the more significant, therefore, w hen he concedes th at am ongst these
pagans there is great righteousness, they are just to themselves and am ong
each other and also tow ard their subordinates, w hether those were C hris
tians or Jews . . . because the T sar [SultanJ himself looks sternly to it. . . .
K onstantinovich also describes from his personal experience how the
O ttom an arm ies were scrupulously respectful of private property and paid
fair prices to the C hristian peasants for provisions.
E xtraordinary taxes they [the Christians] never give, neither to the T sar
nor to their masters [the spahi feudal lords]. But when the T sars arm y is passing
by, no one may go through the green crops nor m ake any dam age, nor take away
from anyone anything against his will. A nd if someone should take something
from anyone w ithout his will, the other pagan masters would not let him do it,
nor would they forgive each other, because they dont wish the dam age of the
poor, and if one should take only one hen by force, one would lose his head. Be
cause the T sar w ants under no condition that evil should be done to the poor.
W hen the T sar orders the Christians, they must send many thousands of sam ars
or horses, who carry food; and they will sell where they are ordered to, each sepparately, because the things are priced justly w ithout dam age to them.

If it is recalled th at this was a period when W estern arm ies alm ost
invariably behaved in a barbarous m anner, respecting neither the persons
nor the property of their own C hristian peasants, then the im port of K on
stantinovichs testim ony may be appreciated. T o illustrate the stern justice of
the pagan m asters, K onstantinovich relates the following incident, which
it is to be hoped is apocryphal but which is not w ithout significance in its
T hus it happened during T sar M urad that a w om an accused an A zab
[irregular infantrym an] that on the road he took milk away from her and drank
it. T hen T sar M urad ordered that he be caught and his belly be cut open, so that
one may see w hether there is milk in the stom ach, and they found th at there is
although he denied it; and if there w ouldnt be found any the sam e would happen
to the wom an; and thus the poor soldier was left without a head and the w om an
w ithout milk; and that happened near Plovdin going to C hrnom en.8

W e m ay conclude th at the T u rk s ruled the B alkans as long as they

did because they satisfied the needs of their subject peoples to an acceptable
degree. In later centuries their adm inistrative institutions deteriorated and
becam e co rru p t and oppressive. B ut in doing so O ttom an rule becam e less
dangerous for the B alkan peoples. It did not threaten their national identity
and cohesiveness. Its inefficiency and flabbiness elim inated the possibility of
denationalization and gave assurance for the future of the subject Christians.
T he significance of this p o in t becom es clear if we com pare the rule
of the T urks on the m ainland w ith that of the V enetians in the G reek islands
and in the Peloponnesus. T he V enetians levied m uch heavier taxes, allowed
no self-governm ent, controlled com m erce strictly, and encouraged prosely-


Age of Ottoman Ascendancy to 1566

tism. In alm ost every respect their rule was m ore oppressive and m ore unp o p
ular. C ontem porary observers were nearly unanim ous on this point. Stephen
G erlach, the chaplain of the H apsburg em bassy in C onstantinople, noted in
his diary in 1575 th at the V enetians kept their subjects in Cyprus (like the
G enoese theirs in C hios) worse th an slaves. . . . A fter the T urks came, the
p o o r people are freed of their burden and are equally free, b u t their m asters,
who had tortured them , w ere caught and sold in T urkey. 9
V enetian rule was not only m ore oppressive but also m ore threaten
ing. T he V enetians incited dissension am ong their subjects deliberately and
effectively. They treated the aristocratic landow ners generously, perm itting
them to retain their estates and titles. T he latter responded by identifying
them selves with their foreign m asters rath er than with their own countrym en.
O n the island of Crete the native nobles either rem ained neutral or actively
supported the V enetians during the peasant revolt of 15 6 7 -1 5 7 3 . Likewise,
in the Ionian Islands the cleavage am ong the G reeks was so com plete th at
the peasants in 1638 revolted against their native landow ners rather th an
against the V enetians. This divide and rule strategy was so successful th at
its effect continued to be felt long after the V enetians departed.
T he T urks, by contrast, unw ittingly strengthened the group solidarity
of their subjects. They did so by granting a large degree of com m unal auton
om y, by im posing regulations separating M oslems from non-M oslem s, and by
exterm inating the native aristocracies. T he latter policy deprived the B alkan
peoples of their leaders but also freed them from social differentiation and
strife. During the long centuries of O ttom an rule they continued to exist as a
p easant mass separate, hom ogeneous, and united.
It is interesting to speculate how different the course of B alkan his
tory might have been if the T urks had followed the contem porary V enetian
policy of divide and rule or the contem porary W estern policy of forceful
religious conform ity. E ith er course w ould have strengthened very considera
bly their hold over the peninsula. T he fact that they adopted neither ex
plains in large p art why the B alkan peoples were able to retain their unity
and identity, and eventually to win their independence.
In conclusion we may dismiss the myth of five centuries of d ark
ness and slavery as a p art of the folklore of B alkan nationalism . Turkish
rule in the early period was in m any respects com m endable. It provided the
B alkan peoples with a degree of peace and security th at previously had been
conspicuously absent. It perm itted them to practice their faith and to conduct
their com m unal affairs with a m inim um of intervention and taxation. A ny
com parison with V enetian rule in G reece during the sam e period is largely
favorable to the T urks. In the following chapter we shall note th at the situa
tion later changed drastically. T he deterioration of the O ttom an im perial
structure inevitably had its effect on the subject peoples. In contrast to the
form er discipline and efficiency, they now were subjected to the rapacious
ness of governm ent officials and to the violence of uncontrolled soldiery and
robber bands. Indeed, the plight of the C hristians during this period was no

Balkan Peninsula under Ottoman Rule


worse than th at of the M oslems. B ut im perial degeneration is not a p h e

nom enon peculiar to T urkish rule. A nd it should not be allowed to obscure
the role and significance of Pax O ttom anica in the history of the B alkan

Pari III. Age


D e c lin e

o f th e O tto m a n


Ottoman Decline

E m p ire

J L h e O t t o m a n E m p i r e reached the height of its pow er

and prestige during the reign of Suleim an the Magnificent. B ut in 1622,
little more than half a century after Suleim ans death, the British envoy in
C onstantinople, Sir T hom as Roe, reported th at the em pire was in a state of

. . . it is impossible that the em pire.can endure, though no stranger had

a finger to help forw ard their disintegration. . . . all the territory of the grand
signor is dispeopled for w ant of justice, or rather by violent oppressions, so much
as in his best parts of G reece and N atolia, a man may ryde 3, and 4, sometimes
6 daies, and not find a village able to feed him and his horse; whereby the r'evenew
is so lessened, that there sufficeth not to pay the soldiour, and to m ayntayne the
court. . . .
I can say no more, then that the disease yet w orks internally that must
ruyne this em pire: we daily expect m ore chaunges, and effusion of bloud: the
wisest men refuze to sitt at the helme, and fooles will soone runne themselves
and others upon the rocks.1

F ortunately for the em pire, the fooles did not succeed one another
in uninterrupted succession. In times of direst crisis, strong sultans or grand
vizirs appeared to ride out the storm s. They even staged short-lived com e
backs such as the conquest of Crete in the m id-seventeenth century. B ut the
fact rem ains th at after Suleim an we com e to a period of general decline a
period in which the O ttom ans ceased to be feared and began them selves to
fear. R oe was correct in his prediction th at the disease yet w orks internally
th at m ust ruyne this em pire. O ur problem now is to diagnose this disease.
W hat was the ailm ent which, despite repeated efforts at cure, poisoned the
vitals of the em pire and eventually brought about its downfall?



Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815


The O ttom an E m pire was essentially a m ilitary m achine. The engine

th at pow ered this m achine was the R uling Institution. T he person who di
rected the Institution was the sultan. H ence the critical im portance of the
sultans personality in O ttom an history. F o r tw o and a half centuries a re
m arkable succession of ten outstanding rulers had led the em pire from vic
tory to victory. A fter Suleim an, an equally rem arkable succession of incapable
sultans lost control of the em pire to such a degree th at it was left leaderless
and powerless. T he well-known T urkish proverb T he fish stinks from the
h ead em phasizes the significance of this dynastic degeneration.
T he cause for this degeneration probably had little to do with laws
of eugenics. Inbreeding certainly could not have been a factor. T he m others
of the sultans continued to be draw n from all countries and ethnic strains.
T he decisive factor appears to have been the system of succession, which
in tu rn was responsible for the appalling m anner in which the royal princes
were trained for their duties. W e noted in C hapter 5 th at M oham m ed II
issued a D raconian fratricide decree enjoining his successors to execute their
brothers in order to avoid civil strife. T he decree was obeyed until the end
of the sixteenth century. T hen it was modified in two ways which together
proved disastrous. F irst the slaughter of royal princes was halted and, in
stead, all of them , with the exception of the sons of the reigning sultan, were
confined to special quarters in the palace and denied all com m unication
with the outside world. T hese pathetic creatures spent their lives in the com
pany of a few eunuchs, pages, and sterilized harem inm ates. Inevitably they
becam e m ental and m oral cripples, pitiful victims of a vicious environm ent.
Y et it was these very individuals who, by a change in the law of succession,
were placed upon the im perial throne and entrusted with the destiny of the
em pire.
T he change in succession occurred following the death of Sultan
A hm ed I in 1617. T he sultans sons were n o t of age, and since no m inor had
ever sat on the im perial throne, A hm eds b ro th e r was chosen as successor.
A t the sam e tim e a decree was issued stipulating th at henceforth the throne
should pass to the oldest m em ber of the im perial house. This m eant th at
future sultans were to be draw n not from the royal princes, w ho were raised
under relatively norm al circum stances, b u t rath e r from the brothers, uncles,
and cousins, who had passed their lives in the degenerating seclusion de
scribed above.
These individuals were unequal to the trem endous responsibility of
their position and also were incapable of selecting w orthy advisers. It was
only natural that they should continue to depend upon the peculiar com
panions of their boyhood. T hese w orthies now becam e im perial favorites,
using the puppet sultans as tools for the plundering of the em pire. By the end
of the sixteenth century the sultan as the actual governing power had passed
from the scene, reappearing on a few rare occasions as a phenom enon with no

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


lasting effect. O ttom an history henceforth was the history of endless strife
betw een various individuals and cliques seeking to gain the confidence of the
sovereign, and through him , the control of the em pire. T he eldest m ale
system of succession, it should be noted, persisted from 1617 until the fall
of the dynasty in 1924. B ut the practice of incarcerating the princes was
gradually abandoned during the nineteenth century.

T he degeneration of the dynasty was accom panied by the corruption
of the adm inistration. W hen the R uling Institution functioned properly it
received from the Palace School a steady supply of superbly trained slaves.
These were appointed to adm inistrative posts throughout the em pire and ad
vanced on the basis of m erit. This system proved extraordinarily efficient
until the end of the sixteenth century. T hen it deteriorated rapidly, partly
because of the failings of the dynasty, b u t also because of certain other fac
tors which probably would have tak en their toll regardless of w hat w ent on
in the palace.
T he O ttom an slave bureaucracy could function effectively only so
long as two conditions prevailed. O ne was th a t w ar should be waged con
tinually and successfully, for w ar provided m any of the slaves w ho w ere to
becom e the adm inistrators, and also provided the booty to support these
adm inistrators and their im perial m aster on the munificent scale to which
they had becom e accustom ed. T he oth er condition was th at the M oslem -born
population should continue to accept a system whose distinguishing charac
teristic was th at it excluded them from participating in the adm inistration of
their ow n em pire.
Tow ard the end of the sixteenth century neither of these conditions
was met. W ars continued, but they w ere becom ing increasingly defensive
and unsuccessful. Instead of yielding slaves and booty, they im posed burdens
which becam e heavier as defeats becam e com m oner. Likewise, the M oslem
population was successfully challenging the slave m onopoly of its governm ent.
In 1594 a V enetian am bassador reported th at the native T urks continue to
sustain the greatest dissatisfaction, from seeing the governm ent reposed in
the renegades. T he am bassador added his opinion th a t one may reasonably
hope . . . for some notable revolution w ithin a short tim e. 2
T he revolution occurred, perhaps not in as dram atic a fashion as the
V enetian anticipated, b u t w ith a m ost far-reaching and devastating effect.
T he sultans and their m inisters began to accept gifts from candidates for
office. T he practice began in the latter p a rt of Suleim ans reign, when the
im perial.finances w ere strained by continual w ar and an increasingly luxurious
court. A t first the com petence of the candidates counted for m ore th an their
ability to pay. G radually and inevitably the financial consideration prevailed.
One result was th at the m erit system gave way to the bribe system. A nother
was th at the M oslems, who previously had been excluded from their govern


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

m ent, now were free to participate in it if they had the m eans or the influence
to secure a post.
These two developm ents com pletely destroyed the basic features of the
old bureaucracy: its m erit system and its slave personnel. A fundam entally
different adm inistrative system developed, one in which every im portant posi
tion was available to the highest bidder. T he bidders were num erous and
eager, for everyone now could aspire to office. Indeed, the num ber of candi
dates was so m uch greater th an the supply of offices th a t appointm ents began
to be m ade for one year only in order to redress the balance and, incidentally,
to increase the num ber of gifts. Only the subordinate officials continued to
hold their positions and to receive prom otions according to the old criteria of
satisfactory service and seniority.
The tax collection system was equally unsatisfactory. G overnm ent
officials originally collected the taxes directly. B ut so m any of those officials
proved dishonest th at M oham m ed II substituted a tax-farm ing arrangem ent.
H enceforth all taxes were farm ed out to the highest bidders, usually courtiers
or high officials. These individuals in turn sold their concessions piecem eal.
T he process frequently was repeated several times, each vendor m aking a sub
stantial profit. T he crushing burden of this oppressive structure rested finally
upon the helpless peasant population, M oslem as well as Christian.
W e m ay conclude that from the seventeenth century onw ard the
typical O ttom an official holding a position of any im portance regarded it as
a private investm ent from which he was justified in deriving as large a return
as possible. W estern observers, who form erly had noted th a t the sultans sub
jects were justly ruled and lightly taxed, now began to report precisely the
opposite. Likewise, the m ore public spirited of the O ttom an officials recog
nized and deplored the defects of the system under which they operated.
M ehm ed Pasha, who rose to be the treasurer of the em pire at the beginning
of the eighteenth century, described the effects of the all-pervading bribery
in the darkest colors.
Bribery is the beginning and root of all illegality and tyranny, the source
and fountain of every sort of disturbance and sedition, the most vast of evils and
greatest of calamities. . . . If it becomes necessary to give a position because of
bribes, in this way its holder has permission from the governm ent for every sort
of oppression. Stretching out the hand of violence and tyranny against the poor
subjects along his route [of travel] and spreading fire am ong the poor, he de
stroys the wretched peasants and ruins the cultivated lands. As the fields and
villages becom e em pty of husbandm en, day by day weakness comes to land and
property, which rem ain destitute of profits and revenues and harvest and benefit.3


T he corruption of the bureaucracy extended to the arm ed forces. In

this case also, one of the im portant factors was the inability to extend fu r
th er the im perial conquests. T he O ttom an arm ies hitherto had been ready

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


and eager for w ar because w ar invariably had m eant rich booty, valuable
slaves, and m ore land to be divided into fiefs. In fact, the O ttom an expansion
in the Balkans was to a considerable degree the work of frontier soldiers
who, like the A m erican frontiersm en, kept pushing w estward with little re
gard for central authority. Both M oham m ed II and Bayezid II were unable
to prevent raids across the border into the countries with which they were
anxious to m aintain peace. Sir T hom as Roe observed in 1623 that
the T urkish soldiour is not only apt, but desirous to make invasion; because all
things are prey, and all kinds of licence given them ; and his hope is m ore upon
booty and prisoners, then upon conquest; every boy or girle slave being here the
best m erchandize, and worth 100 dollars; so that every village is to them a
magazine, and they retorne rich.4

W hen w ar brought defeat rather than victory, and destruction instead

of plunder, the T urks no longer were desirous to make invasion. The Eng
lish diplom at Sir Paul Rycaut accom panied the O ttom an arm y in its cam
paign against the H apsburgs in 1665. H e noted that after several setbacks
the T urkish soldiers becam e dem oralized and refused to fight.
The Souldiery was greatly terrified and possessed with a fear of the Chris
tians . . . and having Wives and C hildren and Possessions to look after, were
grown poor, and desired nothing more than in peace and quietness to return to
their homes, so that nothing could com e m ore grateful to this Cam p, no largesses
nor hopes could pacifie the minds of the Souldiery more than the promises and
expectations of Peace. A nd this was the true cause that brought on the T reaty of
Peace between the E m peror and the T u rk .5

O ttom an m ilitary strength declined not only because of this external

pressure but also because of certain dom estic developm ents. Some of these
developm ents affected prim arily the standing arm y of janissary infantrym en
and others the feudal arm y of spahi cavalrym en. Considering first the janis
saries, we have noted th at during their golden age they were exclusively of
slave origin, superbly trained, form idable in war, but also notoriously prone
to rebellion. W ith the advent of weak rulers the janissaries becam e increas
ingly unruly and at the sam e tim e they m ade themselves alm ost unassailable
by sinking roots into the M oslem com m unity.
This process involved several steps. Some tim e in the first half of the
sixteenth century the form erly celibate janissaries won perm ission to take
wives and raise families. This at once raised the problem of financial support.
E ven w ithout family dependents this had becom e acute. Between 1350 and
1600 janissary pay h ad increased four tim es b u t the cost of living had risen
ten times. T hus the m arried janissaries were quite incapable of supporting
their families and therefore w ere allowed to supplem ent their m eager allow
ance by engaging in trade and industry. T hen in 1574 they won the right to
enroll their sons in the corps. But these sons also continued in their fathers
respective professions. T he outcom e was th a t the m ost fam ous and feared
unit of the O ttom an arm y gradually changed into a m ilitia of city traders


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

and artisans. T his tren d was hastened by the influx of m any civilians who
b ribed their way into the corps in o rd er to gain the tax-exem ption privilege
traditionally enjoyed by the janissaries. In m any cities the various janissary
com panies becam e virtually guilds of bakers, butchers, cobblers, arm orers,
and so forth. This trend reached such proportions th at in Saloniki at the end
of the eighteenth century the janissaries and their families com prised fully
one half of the total population of sixty thousand.
T he child-tribute th a t form erly had filled the janissary ranks obvi
ously was anachronistic in these new circum stances. R ecruits from the C hris
tian population were desired neither by the governm ent, which was em bar
rassed by the expense of the greatly inflated corps, nor by the janissaries
them selves, who regarded new com ers as interlopers and com petitors. H ence
the child-levy was enforced less and less frequently, the last recorded case
being in 1637.
T he transform ation of the corps was now com plete. T he janissaries
started as the slaves of the sultan, owing allegiance solely to him , and de
pendent upon him for everything. By the seventeenth century they had be
com e a privileged and self-perpetuating caste, recruited from the M oslem
population, and assured of its support. T he effect on the em pire was deplora
ble. A lthough the janissaries increased from twelve thousand under Suleim an
to over one hundred thousand by 1825, only two thousand of the latter
were actually trained. T he corps had becom e useless as a fighting force, and
yet it could not be disbanded. N o oth er standing arm y existed to challenge
its prim acy. In case of em ergency it could draw upon the enorm ous reserve
force of the u rban population of which it had becom e an integral part. M ore
th an one sultan and grand vizir who sought to neutralize or abolish the
corps discovered at the cost of their lives how firmly entrenched was this
m onstrous vested interest.
The deterioration of the janissaries was paralleled by th at of the
spahis o r tim ar-holding cavalrym en. In this case the difficulties arose from
various abuses in the granting of fiefs. O ne of these abuses was the diversion
of the fiefs or tim ars to dum m y holders. Palace favorites and provincial offi
cials obtained by devious m eans tim ars for their ow n retainers and then
collected the revenue w hich norm ally w ould have supported spahi horsem en.
This subterfuge becam e a serious m atter w hen som e individuals accum ulated
as m any as fifty tim ars and in return contributed nothing to the arm ed
A no th er abuse was the practice of adding tim ars to the im perial
dom ain. This was occasioned by the increasing indebtedness of the govern
m ent after Suleim ans reign. Since tim ar revenues w ent to the spahis
rath er th an to the treasury, the governm ent frequently refused to reassign
tim ars th at fell vacant. Instead it assim ilated the property into the imperial
lands and auctioned the revenue to the tax farm ers, thus obtaining sorely
needed funds. This practice brought some relief to the governm ent treasury,
but it weakened correspondingly the feudal arm y. These abuses, and others

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


of a sim ilar nature, explain the decline in the num ber of spahis and of the
horsem en they were required to furnish. T he total dropped from two hu n
dred thousand in the tim e of Suleim an to no m ore than twenty-five thousand
by the eighteenth century.
W e m ay conclude th at after the sixteenth century O ttom an m ilitary
strength deteriorated rapidly. T he janissaries had degenerated into a privi
leged social class interested m ore in their im munities than their duties, while
the feudal spahis bore little resem blance to the great cavalry arm ies th at at
one tim e had swept irresistibly through the B alkans and across the H ungarian
plains to the walls of V ienna. T he governm ent was forced to contend against
the growing strength of neighboring pow ers by using T atar horsem en from
the C rim ea, untrained levies, and undisciplined volunteers. These motley
forces frequently did m ore dam age to the inhabitants of the villages through
which they passed th an to the foreign enem y. W e noted in C hapter 7 K on
stantinovichs testim ony that if a soldier should take only one hen by force,
one would lose his head . T h a t was in the mid-fifteenth century. A little
m ore than tw o hundred years later the O ttom an official, M ehm ed P asha,
deplored the indiscipline and excesses of the im perial armies.
Practicing brigandage, they are not satisfied with free and gratuitous
fodder for their horses and food for their own bellies from the villages they meet.
They covet the horse-cloth and rags of the rayas [peasants], and if they can get
their hands on the granaries they becom e joyful, filling their sacks with barley
and oats for provisions and fodder. W hile they behave in this way and make thus
a habit of ruin, setting themselves to harm and oppress, the sighs and groans of
m ankind attain the heavens and it is certain that they will be accursed.6.


T he deterioration of the dynasty, the corruption of the adm inistra

tion, and the w eakening of the arm ed forces com bined to transform the once
form idable O ttom an E m pire into a flaccid and rickety structure ruthlessly
exploited by a small clique entrenched in C onstantinople. This clique con
sisted of courtiers and high officials who used the puppet sultans as a screen
for their operations. A t rare intervals a sultan showed up who attem pted to
exercise his prerogatives and to follow an independent policy. O n such occa
sions the oligarchy usually aroused the janissaries and used them to depose
the sultan and to p u t a m ore tractable person in his place. It is not w ithout
significance th a t the great m ajority of the janissary revolts w ere engineered
from above.
.The oligarchy used sim ilar m ethods to secure com pliant grand vizirs.
O nly w hen the em pire was in danger of com plete destruction did they accept
men of ability and will power. T he assum ption of office in 1656 by the m as
terful M oham m ed K iuprili is explained in precisely these term s by a con
tem porary English observer.


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

T he G overnm ent was so broken, and things so unsettled, that a Vizir

could scarcely hold his place to the end of a year; whereby things cam e to a very
bad pass, soldiers not to be governed, and the revenue anticipated above five
years beforehand; and then as the properest rem edy for those evils, a rigid, cruelnatured fellow was found out, and m ade Vizier, who was the fam ous old C u perli
[Kiuprili]; a m an so obscure that he was even know n to few, and had been em
ployed only in some petty Bashalik, and at that tim e was poor and in debt.7

Such m en as K iuprili were able to ride out the storm s and to keep
the em pire afloat. But they were not able to elim inate the evils th at were the
basic cause of the difficulties. They w ere not able to destroy the janissaries,
wipe out the corruption, and rem ove the palace favorites. In short, they failed
to transform a decaying m ilitary m achine into a m odern state capable of
holding its own in the new E urope th at was emerging. The m ore time passed,
the greater becam e the disparity between the O ttom an E m pire and the West,
a disparity th at gradually forced the em pire into a sem icolonial status and
eventually into oblivion.

In analyzing the reasons for the decline of the O ttom an E m pire it is

necessary to consider not only the internal factors but also the external. The
decline cannot be studied as though it occurred in a vacuum . C ontem porary
developm ents in W estern E urope m ust also be taken into account. T he very
concept of the decline of the em pire is relative in nature relative, th at is,
to w hat was happening in the W est. F u rtherm ore, the developm ents in the
W est created new conditions and released new forces th at affected the O tto
m an E m pire in num berless ways and com pletely altered its relations with
the rest of E urope.
Considering first the econom ic conditions and relations, we find th at
until the m id-sixteenth century the O tto m an E m pire was at least abreast of
the C hristian E uro p ean countries. T he vast extent and varied climes of the
em pire assured it of virtual self-sufficiency. T he fertile plains of H ungary,
W allachia, A sia M inor, and Egypt produced an abundant supply of food
stuffs and raw m aterials. T he skilled artisans of C onstantinople, Saloniki,
D am ascus, B aghdad, C airo, and other ancient cities turned out a m ultitude
of handicraft products. T he em pire also possessed large tim ber resources and
im portant m ineral deposits, particularly iron, copper, and lead. A ll these
goods were bought and sold w ithout hindrance in the vast free-trade area
provided by the far-flung O ttom an frontiers. T he em pires strategic position
at the junction of seas and continents also prom oted a substantial foreign
and transit trade. V arious m inerals were exported to the M iddle E ast. Silks,
velvets, rugs, leather, copper, and dyestuffs were sent w estw ard through the
B alkans to Poland, A ustria, and Venice. A nd despite the opening of the
C ape route in the early sixteenth century, B aghdad, A leppo, and C airo con
tinued to attract the products of Persia, India, the East Indies, the A rabian
Peninsula, and the Sudan.

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


T he prosperity of the em pire was reflected in the annual surplus left

in the treasury. Suleim ans revenues in the early p art of his reign totaled
about six million ducats and his expenditures about four and a half m illion
ducats. In his later years, after he had conquered large areas in E urope and
Asia, the am ount of revenue increased to seven or eight m illion ducats, a
substantially larger sum than th at collected by C harles V.
This vast am ount m ust be attrib u ted to the w ealth and flourishing
state of the em pire rath er than to an excessive rate of taxation. W e have seen
th at the average C hristian peasant paid a small head tax, a tithe of approxi
m ately one tenth of the produce of his farm , and, if he was a tenant on a
feudal fief, certain additional obligations to his spahi overlord. These dues
were far from burdensom e. C ontem porary travelers frequently rem arked th at
the B alkan peasants were less heavily taxed and w ere generally better off
than their counterparts in the W estern lands.
T here is little doubt th at this was actually the case. W e have m uch
evidence th at O ttom an rule had a great attraction for m any people in neigh
boring C hristian countries. W hen B arbarossa raided the Italian coasts he
found considerable pro-T urkish feeling, even to the point of revolts in his
behalf. Likewise, M artin L u th er observed th at one finds in G erm an lands
those who desire the future of the T urks and their governm ent, as well as
those who would rath er be under the T urks than under the E m peror and the
Princes. 8 A considerable num ber of those w ho would rather be under the
T u rk s did cross the frontier into the O ttom an Em pire, especially after the
series of peasant revolts in C entral E urope in the first half of the sixteenth
D espite this impressive beginning, the O ttom an econom y fell far be
hind th at of W estern E urope within a com paratively short time. The explana
tion for the unexpected reversal is th a t the O ttom an E m pire did not experi
ence the so-called C om m ercial R evolution which basically transform ed
W estern econom ic institutions and practices between the fifteenth and eight
eenth centuries. D uring th at period the restricted noncapitalist econom y of
medieval E urope gave way to the expanding and dynam ic capitalist econom y
of m odern times.
In com m erce this m eant the gradual disappearance of the old m er
chant guilds operating on a local, or at the m ost, a continental scale, and im
posing num erous restrictions on prices and profits. In their place appeared
the joint-stock com panies trading on a w orld-wide basis and m aking as large
profits as possible. This change in com m erce affected industry. T he old craft
guilds were quite incapable of m eeting the dem ands of the new w orld m ar
kets. G radually they gave way to the en trepreneur who used his capital to
buy raw. m aterial, to hire labor, and to sell the finished product at the m arket
price rath er than at a regulated price. These developm ents in com m erce and
industry were ]3art and parcel of the general expansion of the E uropean
econom y until it attained world-wide proportions.
The O ttom an econom y was rem aining static during this period when


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

W estern capitalism was enveloping the entire globe. It was not the O ttom an
m erchants who exploited W estern E urope. R ather, it was the French, the
English, and the D utch who organized their respective L evant com panies
and exploited the resources of the O ttom an Em pire. T he first to appear were
the French. In 1535 they negotiated a treaty which provided the legal basis
for their trade in the Levant. By this treaty F rench subjects were perm itted
to reside and trad e in the O ttom an E m pire w ithout being subject to O ttom an
taxation or to the jurisdiction of O tto m an courts. These special privileges or
capitulations were extended in 1583 to the English and the D utch. As a
result, W estern m erchants during the sixteenth century obtained an increas
ingly large proportion of the eastern M editerranean trade form erly m onopo
lized by Italian m iddlem en.
This developm ent of direct trade w ith W estern E urope proved detri
m ental to the econom y of the O ttom an E m pire. F rench, English, and D utch
m erchants loaded their ships with foodstuffs and with raw m aterials needed
by their hom e industries. In return they brought various native and colonial
products, and, during the sixteenth century, large quantities of bullion that
originated in the New W orld. B ut the bullion did not rem ain in the sultans
dom ains. Instead, it was exchanged for the spices and the fine fabrics th at
were brought in across the eastern borders. Thus the O ttom an Em pire, like
Spain, found itself in an unenviable position in international trade. It had
becom e merely a funnel through which the bullion from the W est flowed on
to the M iddle and F a r East.
T he results were as injurious for the O ttom an econom y as for the
Spanish. T he m ost obvious m anifestation was the m arked inflation after the
m id-sixteenth century. C ontributing causes were the debasem ent of currency,
the increasing extravagance and corruption of the governm ent, and the heavy
burden of wars which no longer were as successful and profitable as in earlier
times. It is significant, however, th at betw een 1550 and 1600 the price of
w heat rose approxim ately five tim es in the A n kara region of central A natolia
and ten times in the A egean coastal area. A sim ilar price trend is noticeable
in the case of other com m odities which were being shipped to the W est. T he
net result was a vicious circle so far as the O ttom an econom y was con
cerned. T he scarcity and high price of raw m aterials seriously handicapped
O ttom an industry, and this in turn stim ulated the inflow of m anufactured
goods and the outflow of bullion.
T he im perial governm ent was slow to take action, lacking as it did
the experience and the m ercantilist traditions of the W est. In 1563 it ordered
one hundred and fifty thousand pieces of canvas for the fleet b u t discovered
th at the o rder could not be filled because of the shortage of cotton thread.
Likewise, the O ttom an officials found it increasingly difficult to obtain food
supplies for the capital and for the arm y. C onsequently, the governm ent
deem ed it necessary in the latter p art of the sixteenth century to ban the
export of bullion to the E ast and various m aterials to the W est, including
cotton, cotton thread, lead, gunpow der, horses, and certain foodstuffs. But

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


O ttom an officials w ere even m ore lax in enforcing such restrictions th an their
Spanish counterparts. B ullion continued to drain out of the O ttom an E m pire
as it did out of Spain, while W estern captains loaded cargoes as easily in the
L evant ports as they did in the Spanish colonies.
A fter the sixteenth century the econom ic position of the O ttom an
E m pire grew worse. T he D utch forced their way to the E ast Indies in the
first half of the seventeenth century and blocked the transit trad e through the
O ttom an lands m uch m ore effectively than had their Portuguese predecessors.
A t the sam e tim e the V enetians gradually were being squeezed out of the
L evant trade. T heir tw enty-five-year w ar with the T urks (1 6 4 5 -1 6 7 0 )
cost them so heavily in m oney and ships th at they sank from a first- to a
third-rate com m ercial pow er. This enabled the W esterners to dom inate the
foreign trade of the O ttom an E m pire. F urtherm ore, they now brought in less
bullion and m ore m anufactured goods as their hom e industries grew stronger.
T hey were able to sell these goods on the O ttom an m arket with virtually no
hindrance because the treaty capitulations specifically lim ited im port and
export duties to betw een 3 and 5 per cent ad valorem . T hus O ttom an indus
tries were left w ithout protection and the em pire steadily declined to a de
pendent status in its econom ic relations with the West. Like South A m erica
and the F a r E ast, it served m erely as a m arket for W estern m anufactures and
a source of raw m aterials for W estern industries.
In conclusion, it is apparent th a t the stagnant O ttom an econom y ex
perienced none of the revolutionary changes th at were transform ing the W est.
O ttom an m erchants did not com bine their resources to form joint-stock com
panies. O ne reason was the conservatism and individualism of a M oslem so
ciety th a t refused to countenance large-scale, im personal business enterprises.
A nother reason was the tendency of O ttom an officials to regard any overly
rich subject as fair gam e for extortion and confiscation. In any case the O tto
m an m erchants, who w ere alm ost invariably A rm enians, Jews, and G reeks,
confined them selves to individual operations w ithin the borders of the em pire.
O ttom an industry likewise rem ained at the handicraft stage in tech
nology, and at the guild stage in organization. W hereas few guilds played an
im portant role in the W estern econom y by the late seventeenth century, in
the O ttom an E m pire they continued to dom inate both industry and com
merce. T he craftsm en and the m erchants w orked and trafficked in little shops
built along narrow and crooked streets, and som etim es roofed over, street
and all, to form the low ram bling buildings know n as bazaars. These were
picturesque b u t scarcely a m atch for the new capitalism of the West. The
inevitable outcom e is depicted in the following observations of an English
traveler in C onstantinople in 1800:
Suppose a stranger to arrive from a long journey, in w ant of clothes for
his body; furniture for his lodgings; books or maps for his instruction and am use
m ent; paper, pens, ink, cutlery, shoes, hats; in short those articles w hich are
found in almost every city of the w orld; he will find few or none of them in C on


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

stantinople; except of a quality so inferior as to render them incapable of an

swering any purpose for w hich they w ere intended. T he few com m odities exposed
fo r sale are either exports from England, unfit for any other m arket, or, w hich is
worse, G erm an and D utch im itations of English m anufacture. . . . L et a fo r
eigner visit the bazaars . . . he will see nothing b ut slippers, clumsy boots of bad
leather, coarse muslins, pipes, tobacco, coffee, cooks shops, drugs, flower-roots,
second-hand pistols, poignards, and the w orst m anufactured wares in the w orld.
. . . View the exterior of C onstantinople, and it seems the m ost opulent and
flourishing city in E urope; exam ine its interior, and its miseries and deficiencies
are so striking that it m ust be considered the m eanest and poorest m etropolis of
the w orld. T he ships w hich crowd its ports have no connection with its w elfare:
they are for the most part French, V enetian, Ragusan, Sclavonian, and G recian
vessels, to or from the M editerranean, exchanging the produce of their own coun
tries for the rich harvests of Poland; the salt, honey, and b u tter of the U kraine;
the hides, tallow, hem p, furs, and metals of Russia and Siberia; the whole of which
exchange is transacted in other ports w ithout any interference on the p art of T u r
key. N ever was there a people in possession of such advantages, who either knew
or cared so little for their enjoym ent. U nder a wise governm ent, the inhabitants
of Constantinople might obtain the riches of all the em pires of the earth. Situated
as they are, it cannot be long before other nations, depriving them of such im por
tant sources of wealth, will convert to better purposes the advantages they have so
long neglected.9




T he relative econom ic decline of the O ttom an Em pire contributed

to a corresponding m ilitary decline. D uring the fifteenth century the O ttom an
arm ies had prevailed against the forces of Persia, Egypt, and the Balkan
states because of two decisive advantages: their superior artillery and their
incom parable janissary infantrym en. By the m id-sixteenth century these ad
vantages no longer prevailed. In the place of the poorly disciplined feudal
levies they had routed in the past, the T urks now encountered the veteran
Spanish and A ustrian foot soldiers serving u nder the H apsburgs. A fter their
long cam paigns in Italy these m en were b etter trained than the janissaries,
particularly in large-scale and precise m aneuvers. Also, they possessed m ore
effective arm s. B oth side used the harquebus as a missile, but for an addi
tional w eapon the T urks clung to the saber while the W esterners were now
using the pike. T he superiority of the latter w eapon already had been proved
at the sieges of R hodes and M alta, w here the H ospitalers with their pikes
repeatedly h ad cleared the janissaries out of the breaches. In the future the
H apsburg forces were to win repeated victories by answering the fire of the
T urkish harquebuses and then advancing with their pikes.
T he arm am ent superiority of the W estern arm ies becam e decisive
w ith the developm ent of firearms. T he T urks from the outset had depended
heavily on W estern assistance for the forging and m anning of their artillery.
This assistance explains in large part their superiority in the field over the

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


Persians, the M am elukes, and the B yzantines. B ut the T urks never w ere able
to keep up with the W esterners. They were alm ost a century behind when
they first used cannons in the mid-fifteenth century. This disparity increased
as W estern industry forged ahead of the O ttom an. The Turkish traveler,
Evliya Chelebi, inform s us th at the G erm ans were a race of strong, w arlike,
cunning, devilish, coarse infidels w hom , excelling as they did in artillery,
Sultan Suleym an endeavored to get equal with by recruiting gunners and a r
tillerym en from all countries with the offer of rich rew ards. 10
T he T urks also failed to m ake adequate use of even such w eapons
as were available to them . In 1548, for exam ple, Suleim an attem pted to per
suade two hundred of the regular T urkish cavalry to use carbines and pistols
in place of the traditional bow. T he tim e was long overdue for the change;
yet the cavalrym en were so m ocked by their com panions and so averse to
trying new w eapons th at the experim ent failed. It was not until the end of
the century th at the T urkish cavalry generally m ade use of small arm s. L ike
wise, the janissaries stubbornly and successfully delayed the adoption of new
w eapons and tactics until they them selves were elim inated in 1826.
In the sam e m anner th at the backw ardness of O ttom an industry con
tributed to the technological lag of the arm y, so the backw ardness of the
O ttom an m erchant m arine and shipyards contributed to the weakness of the
navy. T he T urks started out as a land people with no naval traditions. They
established them selves in A sia M inor and overran the B alkans by relying
exclusively on their arm ies. It was not until their defeat by the V enetians at
Gallipoli in 1416 th at they sensed the need for a fleet to protect and round
out their conquests. T he O ttom an navy was created for the specific purpose
of defeating the V enetians. By the tim e of M oham m ed II it had becom e a
respectable force and contributed to the capture of C onstantinople. U nder
Suleim an II it reached its height. W ith the leadership of B arbarossa and the
support of N o rth A frican sea pow er, the O ttom an navy m ade itself felt as
far afield as the w estern M editerranean, the Red Sea, the Indian O cean, and
the Persian Gulf.
E ven during this glorious period the O ttom an navy was in a certain
sense an artificial creation. It had, it is true, the great advantage of abundant
m ineral resources in the B alkan countries and an inexhaustible store of tim ber
on the shores of the B lack Sea. B ut this did n o t counterbalance the fatal lack
of an O ttom an m erchant m arine. T he basis of W estern naval strength at this
tim e was the rapidly grow ing num ber of m erchantm en. These vessels kept the
shipyards operating, provided an adequate num ber of trained seam en, and,
in case of emergency, planted naval guns on their decks and served as menof-war. B ut the O ttom an E m pire had only small coastal ships, in no way
com parable with the Spanish galleons th a t circled the globe to M anila o r with
the English m erchantm en th a t were to be found on every ocean.
This m ercantile deficiency explains to a great extent why the O tto
m an navy rem ained an essentially non-T urkish organization w ithout deep
roots in the em pire. M ost of its ships were designed by Italian naval archi


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

tects, built by G reek shipyard w orkers, and m anned by heterogeneous and

usually unreliable C hristian crews. Likewise, the O ttom an navy failed to
keep up w ith the W est in the transition from the oar to the sail-propelled
w arship. Follow ing a disastrous defeat at the hands of the V enetians in 1656,
the T urks set about building sail w arships of their own. B ut they lacked the
experienced m ariners needed to navigate and m aneuver the new ships, and
soon reverted to the traditional galleys. T he foreseeable result was the loss
of M orea to V enice in 1699 and the advance of the Russians around the
B lack Sea during the eighteenth century.
We may conclude th at the O ttom an m ilitary decline was due to in
ternal failings, such as the disorganization of the janissaries and the feudal
spahis, as well as to the superior progress of the W estern powers in devel
oping new techniques and w eapons in land and sea w arfare.

T he O ttom an E m pire fell behind the W est not only in the econom ic
an d m ilitary spheres b u t also in the political. W ith the advent of the R enais
sance, W estern E urope w itnessed the rise of nationalism and the nation-state,
the one stim ulating and strengthening the other. T he growth of absolutist
m onarchies, the appearance of a middle class desiring unity and order, the
spread of literacy, and the developm ent of new techniques for m ass p ro p a
ganda and indoctrination all these contributed to the evolution of the m od
ern nation-state. This state was the institutional form into which the idea of
nationalism was infused, transform ing form er ducal subjects and feudal serfs
and tow n burghers into the all-inclusive nation.
T he O ttom an E m pire never experienced such a political integration.
It rem ained a congeries of peoples, religions, and conflicting loyalties. T he
average O ttom an subject thought of him self prim arily as a m em ber of a guild
if he lived in a city, or as a m em ber of a village com m unity if he lived in
the countryside. If he had any feeling of broader allegiance it was likely to
be of a religious rath er than a political character. It was likely to be directed
to the head of his millet rath er than to the person of the sultan. Thus the
O ttom an E m pire differed fundam entally from the W estern nation-state. It
was not a cohesive institution com m anding the active loyalty and allegiance
of all its subjects. R ath er, it was a conglom eration of num erous disparate
groups th at were to a large degree self-centered and self-sufficient.
This looseness of organization w eakened the resistance of the em
pire to foreign aggression. In the eighteenth century A ustria and R ussia were
able to annex vast provinces north of the D anube with little difficulty. The
reason, ap art from m ilitary considerations, was th at these provinces had- few
ties with C onstantinople, and their populations felt no particular attachm ent
to the central governm ent. T he em pire was vulnerable not only to m ilitary
aggression but also to intellectual aggression in the form of nationalist idc-

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


ology. Since nationalism did not serve as a cem ent to hold the em pire to
gether, it functioned instead as a centrifugal force which eventually tore the
em pire apart. T he absence of O ttom an nationalism left an ideological
vacuum which was filled by the several B alkan, A rab, and even T urkish n a
tionalism s. A s a result W orld W ar I acted as a plunger th at detonated with
explosive force these nationalist sentim ents and dem olished the O ttom an
im perial structure.



T he O ttom an E m pire lagged behind the W est in econom ic develop

m ent, m ilitary strength, and political cohesion; it also lagged behind in intel
lectual progress. This lag is often attributed to the stultifying influence of
Islam . But the brilliant attainm ents of M oslem science and scholarship in
the M iddle Ages indicate that Islam cannot be equated with intellectual
stagnation. T he failure of the O ttom ans to keep up with W estern thought
is to be explained not by the tenets of Islam but rather by its m oribund state
when the Turks adopted the faith. W hen the O ttom ans were building their
em pire in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Islam had degenerated to
the point where it m eant little m ore than a series of rituals to be perform ed
and a H eaven-sent book to be m emorized.
This had its effect on the M oslem colleges or m edressehs. F rom the
outset the O ttom an m edressehs em phasized theology, jurisprudence, and
rhetoric at the expense of astronom y, m athem atics, and medicine. It is not
surprising that the graduates of these schools showed no interest in the
science and scholarship of the G reek and A rab worlds. T hey m ade no at
tem pt to use the original m anuscript sources to which they had easy access
by virtue of their dom inant position in the N ear East. By contrast, W estern
E urope in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was producing men like
R oger Bacon, A lbertus M agnus, and R obert G rosseteste, who were the h a r
bingers of the com ing era of observational and experim ental science.
M oham m ed II in the mid-fifteenth century was a notable exception
to the prevailing intellectual sterility. He was extraordinarily open-m inded
and curious. C ontem poraries described him as neither M oslem nor C hris
tia n . In addition to founding the unique Palace School for the training of
slave adm inistrators, he also reorganized the curriculum of the m edressehs
by placing greater em phasis on scientific subjects. H e him self selected out
standing scholars from all the M oslem world to fill the chairs in m edicine,
astronom y, and m athem atics. B oth scholastic philosophy and G reek science
were intensively studied during his reign. Sym posium s were held to which the
greatest native and foreign scholars w ere invited. B ehind all this activity was
an earnest effort to replace dogm atic by critical thought.
U nfortunately M oham m eds influence did not long survive his death.
D uring the splendid reign of Suleim an the M agnificent there was an alm ost


Age of Ottoman Decline: 15661815

abnorm al interest in literature b u t very little in the sciences. T he one excep

tion was in the field of geography. Piri Reis, the outstanding T urkish cartog
rap h er of the sixteenth century, won international recognition for his geo
graphical book on the M editerranean Sea. This contains two hundred and
seven fine charts draw n by the author, as well as a considerable am ount of
reliable scientific inform ation. A nother w ork by Piri Reis th at has attracted
m uch attention recently is a large m ap of the world which he drew in 1513.
T he one extant section of this m ap was discovered in C onstantinople in 1929.
It depicts the A tlantic O cean and the surrounding territories B rittany, the
Iberian Peninsula, and the northw estern coast of A frica to the east, and the
A tlantic C oast of N orth and South A m erica to the west. T he accuracy and
scope of this m ap are rem arkable if it is recalled that it was draw n only a
decade after the voyages of C olum bus. This indicates how well inform ed the
T urks were of the western discoveries. In fact, Piri Reis explains on the m ar
gin of his m ap that he had in his possession various Portuguese m aps and a
copy of the chart that Colum bus com piled during his voyages.
T he significance of Piri R eiss m aps can be exaggerated. They indi
cate m erely th at the T urks were able to keep up for a while with the geo
graphic discoveries of the West. But apart from this specialized field the
T urks were com pletely ignorant of the m ore basic advances of W estern sci
ence. They knew nothing of the epoch-m aking achievem ents of Paracelsus in
medicine, Vesalius in anatom y, and C opernicus, K epler, and G alileo in as
tronom y. A t a tim e w hen T urkish arm ies were advancing into Central E u
rope, an intellectual iron curtain separated the O ttom an E m pire from the
T he basic reason for this isolation was the dogm atic spirit which
reigned suprem e in the lands of Islam. T his is m ade clear in the writings of
K atib Chelebi, the fam ous T urkish bibliographer, encyclopedist, and historian
who lived in the first half of the seventeenth century. Com ing from a poor
fam ily, he was unable to obtain a form al higher education. This proved to
be a blessing in disguise. He was spared the superficial, hair-splitting special
ization on M oslem sacred studies th at characterized O ttom an education at
this time. T he fact th at he was self-taught explains in large p a rt his openm indedness tow ard W estern learning.
O ne of C helebis works was a short naval handbook w hich he com
piled following the disastrous defeat of the O ttom an fleet by the V enetians in
1656. In the preface of this w ork Chelebi em phasized the need for m astering
the science of geography and m ap m aking, a field in w hich the T urks had
fallen sadly behind during the century th a t had elapsed since the days of Piri
For men who are in charge of affairs of state, the science of geography
is a matter of which knowledge\ is necessary. They may not be familiar with
what the entire globe is like, but they ought at least to know the map of the
Ottoman State and of those states adjoining it. Then, when they have to send
forces on campaign, they can proceed on the basis of knowledge, and so the in

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


vasion of the enem ys land and also the protection and defense of the frontiers
becomes an easier task. Taking counsel with individuals who are ignorant of that
science is no satisfactory substitute, not even when such men are local veterans.
M ost such veterans are entirely unable to sketch the map of their own hom e
Sufficient and convincing proof of the necessity for learning this science
is the fact that the heathen, by their application to and their esteem for those
branches of learning, have discovered the New W orld and have over-run the
m arkets of India.11

In his last w ork before his death in 1657, Chelebi courageously criti
cized the dogm atism of his contem poraries. A fter describing the splendid
achievem ents of M oslem science and scholarship in the time of the A bbassids,
he pointed out that philosophy and science had been ignored by the O ttom an
medressehs after Suleim ans reign. As a result, w arned Chelebi, H enceforth
people will be looking at the universe w ith the eyes of oxen. 12
The significance of Chelebi is th at he realized th at the O ttom an E m
pire could not afford to rem ain self-satisfied and self-centered at a tim e when
the W est was forging ahead so rapidly. This may seem obvious, but to
Chelcbis contem poraries it was incom prehensible. O ttom an officials and
scholars looked down upon the W est with contem pt and arrogance. Do I not
know you, broke out the grand vizir to the F rench am bassador in 1666,
that you are a G iaour [non-believer], that.y o u are a hogge, a dogge, a turde
eater? 13 As late as 1756, when the French am bassador announced the alli
ance between France and A ustria th at m arked a turning point in the diplo
m atic history of E urope, he was curtly inform ed that the O ttom an governm ent
did not concern itself about the union of one hog with an o ther. 14 This
attitude may explain a rem arkable incident that occurred in 1770 when a
R ussian fleet sailed from the Baltic around E urope into the eastern M editer
ranean and attacked the T urks. The latter, apparently having forgotten Piri
Reiss m aps, protested to the V enetians for perm itting the R ussians to sail
from the Baltic into the A driatic!
T he m ilitary defeats and internal disorders of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries forced intelligent m en to adm it that all was not well with
the em pire. Indeed, they acknow ledged the need for reform and specifically
advocated it in a long series of works know n collectivey as the N asibat litera
ture. This literature consisted of books of G ood Counsels for R ulers. But
the counsels they em bodied invariably w ere based on the assum ption th at the
troubles were purely dom estic and had nothing to do with w hat was happen
ing in the W est. A ll these w riters looked back w ith nostalgia to the glorious
days of Suleim an the M agnificent. All were oblivious to the fact th at the new
capacities and techniques of W estern E u ro p e no longer could be ignored with
im punity.
N ot until the F rench R evolution and the landing of N apoleon in
Egypt and Syria did reality force itself into the O ttom an mind. B ut even then
the forces of reaction rem ained strong and unyielding. The m edressehs still

Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815


taught the old dogm as and the janissaries still dom inated the arm ed forces
and intim idated the governm ent. In R ussia, P eter the G reat had been able to
crush the m utinous Streltzi and to curb the hostile O rthodox C hurch at the
end of the seventeenth century. B ut a hundred years later Selim III was de
posed and strangled w hen he attem pted to take sim ilar m easures. The curtain
separating the O ttom an E m pire from the W est did not lift appreciably until
the m id-nineteenth century. A nd it was not until the em pire itself disappeared
th a t A tatu rk , like P eter, was able to launch his program of com pulsory,
forced-draft W esternization.
O ne of the m ost appalling results of T urkish obscurantism was the
persistence of the bubonic plague in the O ttom an E m pire for over a century
after it h ad petered out in the W est. Follow ing the Black D eath of the m id
fourteenth century the plague continued to devastate W estern E urope until
the eighteenth century. T hen it receded to the E astern E uropean lands, and
until the m id-nineteenth century the O ttom an E m pire suffered cruelly from
the effects of this dread disease.
Travelers frequently reported th at in C onstantinople the plague was
not considered to have reached m ajor proportions unless it claim ed a thou
sand victims a day. Epidem ics broke out every few years with particularly
devastating results in the cities. Forty thousand were killed in C onstantinople
in 1770. B ucharest and Belgrade lost one third of their total populations be
tw een 1812 and 1814. In particularly b ad years, such as 1778 and 1812,
the losses in the em pire as a whole reached as high as 150,000 people.
M edical authorities do not agree as to the reasons for the persistence
of the plague in the O tto m an E m pire. It seems clear, how ever, th at an im
p o rta n t contributing factor was the refusal of O ttom an officials to adopt the
preventive m easures developed in the W est. F o r the devout M oslem T u rk an
epidem ic was an act of G od. H e was convinced th at his days were num bered
by D ivine Providence. A ccordingly, he regarded quarantine precautions as
superfluous and even sinful. A nd in doing so he was neither stupid nor apa
thetic; he was simply religious.
C ontem porary observers leave no doubt as to the paralyzing effect of
the epidem ics upon the com m erce, agriculture, and population of the em pire.
T he following com m ents are typical:
W illiam M acm ichael in 1817:
T he num ber of its [A drianoples] inhabitants, and the extent of its com
m erce have been greatly dim inished by the plague of four years ago. . . . T he
two annual fairs w hich were held in the neighborhood, to w hich Russians with
furs, and G erm ans w ith cloth, were in the habit of resorting, no longer exist.-. . .15

W illiam H am ilton in 1837:

A t Beg-shehr [in Asia Minor] the plague was bad; at Kcrali, which I
reached the following day, still worse; and at K ara-A ghach three fourths of the

Decline of the Ottoman Empire


population had died w ithin the last three months, and the corn for many miles
round the town rem ained uncut or uncarried. A m ore striking instance of the
destroying character of this dreadful m alady cannot be imagined, th an this vast
extent o f uncut corn rotting on the ground, w hen you are told th at not only there
exists no one to claim it, but no one even to carry it away w ithout a claim. . . .
T he very cattle have perished when tied up in the stables because, when the
owners were dead, there was no one either to fed them or to release them .16

W. E ton, about 1800:

W ithout going further back than the memory of persons now living, it
is easy to prove that depopu lation has been in latter times, astonishingly rapid. . . .
T he great causes of this depopulation are the
1st. T he plague, of which the em pire is never entirely free.
2dly. Those terrible disorders which almost always follow it, at least in
3rdly. Epidem ic and endem ic maladies in Asia, which m ake as dreadful
ravages as the plague itself and which frequently visit that p art of the empire.
4thly. Fam ine, owing to the w ant of precaution in the governm ent, when
a crop of corn fails, and to the avarice and villainy of the pashas, who generally
endeavor to profit by this dreadful calamity.
5th and lastly, the sicknesses w hich always follow a fam ine, and w hich
occasion a much greater m ortality. . . .
. . . a great part of E uropean Turkey, except the countries towards the
A driatic and H ungary . . . [ar6] almost destitute of inhabitants. This state of the
country is particularly striking on the road from Belgrade through Sophia, Phillippopolis, and A drianople, to C onstantinople.17

N o system atic study has been m ade of the history and the precise in
fluence of the plague in the O ttom an E m pire. T he evidence indicates, how
ever, th at it disrupted the econom y and reduced the population, and this at
a tim e when the external pressures u p o n the em pire were the m ost severe.
It is probably too m uch to say that the plague bears a causal relationship to
O ttom an decline. W e have seen th at various other factors had set the em pire
on the dow nw ard p ath as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century.
B ut it is quite clear th a t the devastating epidem ics did accelerate the decline
during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.


T he decline of the O tto m an E m pire is an extrem ely com plex phe

nom enon. If any p attern exists, it appears to center around the fact that the
em pire was essentially a m ilitary m achine. It needed short, victorious wars
to m aintain its efficiency and prosperity. In the fourteenth and fifteenth cen
turies it was able to wage such w ars because of the m ilitary weakness and
social instability of the surrounding states. D uring those centuries the T urks
went on from victory to victory from A sia M inor to the B alkans, the A rab
world, Egypt, and then across the D anube into C entral E urope. W ith each


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

conquest they gained strength and gathered m om entum . T o contem porary

W esterners they appeared to be a daily increasing flame, catching hold of
w hatsoever com es next, still to proceed fu rth er. 18
T he T urks m ight very well have proceeded farther if the states of
C entral and W estern E u ro p e h ad resem bled those of the B alkans and the
N ear E ast. B ut they did not, thanks to the R enaissance, the discoveries, the
C om m ercial Revolution, the scientific advances, and the rise of the absolutist
m onarchies. These developm ents transform ed and strengthened immensely
the W estern world. T he O ttom an E m pire, in contrast, rem ained unaffected
and unchanged. This explains in large m easure why the T urks were halted
at V ienna and soon afterw ard pushed back across the H ungarian plains.
F o r a m ilitary em pire these reverses m eant m uch m ore than merely
the stabilization of the frontier along the D anube. This was noted and em
phasized by Sir P aul R ycaut.
It hath been an ancient Custom , and Policy am ongst the T urks, in the
tim e o f their prosperous Successes by w hich their E m pire was enlarged, never to
continue a W ar longer than for three Y ears, in which tim e they always advanced
considerably, and would m ake no Peace with their N eighbors, until their T ri
um phs and A cquisitions would answer the expenses, and effusions of their Blood,
and Treasures. . . . But these last W ars [culm inating in the 1699 T reaty of K arlowitz] have quite put the T urks out of their A ncient M ethods; for instead of m ain
taining a W ar no longer than T hree Y ears, they have been forced to continue it
for m ore than Tw enty, to the great Ruin and D estruction of their E m pire.10

R ycaut m akes clear the fundam ental contradiction facing the O tto
m an E m pire after the sixteenth century. It was organized for conquest and
expansion but it now entered a period of defeat and contraction. The result
was internal tension and dislocation. T his increased the disparity betw een
the em pire and the W est, which in tu rn led to m ore defeats, m ore contraction,
m ore internal difficulties. A nd all this was com pounded by the severe and
frequent epidem ics of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In short,
the em pire was caught in a vicious circle th at persisted to the end. T he only
way out was a basic reorganization of the im perial institutions, b u t this proved
incapable of realization. T he failure of the O ttom an E m pire was, in the bro ad
est term s, a failure in adjustm ent, a failure to respond to the challenge of the
new dynam ic West.

9. Balkan Peninsula During O ttom an Decline

-M.HE i m p o s i t i o n of O ttom an rule upon the B alkan

peoples was not an unm itigated m isfortune as is often assum ed. We have
noted th at the com ing of the T urks was in certain respects a boon rather than
a calam ity. T he new rulers forcefully established peace throughout the pen
insula and put an end to the oppressive native nobility. In m any regions the
position of the peasantry im proved substantially under the new regime.
This situation changed drastically when the O ttom an Em pire began
to decline. T he im perial deterioration at once affected the B alkan peoples, as
indeed it did also the M oslem subjects. W e shall see th a t the effects of the
decline upon the B alkan Peninsula were m ost far-reaching, extending into
every field political, econom ic, and cultural. T he net result was the devel
opm ent of new conditions and institutions, which in tu rn created a new in
tellectual atm osphere characterized prim arily by a growing sense of national
consciousness. T he historical role of this new B alkan nationalism was to end
the preceding Age of T heocracy and to introduce the Age of N ationalism .
D uring the course of the nineteenth century, nationalism gradually b u t stead
ily prevailed, culm inating after W orld W ar I in the establishm ent throughout
the peninsula of nation-states in place of the old im perial structure.


A t the height of its pow er the O ttom an E m pire em braced the entire
B alkan Peninsula with the exception of Slovenia and w estern C roatia, which
were held by the H apsburgs. W e noted earlier th a t the rule of the O ttom an
sultans in the Balkans was com parable to th at of the Chinese em perors in
eastern Asia. T he outlying B alkan and D anubian provinces M oldavia, W al
lachia, T ransylvania, and H ungary h ad an autonom ous status com parable
to that of the outlying Chinese provinces M ongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet.
A nd in the sam e way that the Chinese provinces passed under British and


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

R ussian influence wien Peking becam e w eak, so the border B alkan areas
were annexed by nighboring great pow ers when C onstantinople declined.
We shall note that letween the tim e of Suleim an the M agnificent and the
beginning of the ninteenth century, the T urks lost H ungary, T ransylvania,
C roatia, Slavonia, Eilmatia, and the B anat of Tem esvar to the H apsburgs,
and the northern shre of the Black Sea to the P ru th River to the Russians,
while the D anubiai Principalities possessed an antonom ous status under
R ussias aegis. T hu the B alkan peoples found themselves, as a result of
O ttom an feebleness, divided am ong the three great em pires of E astern E u
T he politics effect of A ustro-R ussian expansion to the south was to
m ake it m uch moredifficult for the B alkan peoples to win their national in
dependence. They d w had to contend with three em pires rath er than one;
furtherm ore, the R m anoffs and the H apsburgs were m ore form idable ad
versaries than the (ttom ans. A ustro-R ussian intrusion into the Balkans also
h ad im portant ecoom ic and cultural repercussions. T hose areas that cam e
und er H apsburg rul reached a far higher level of econom ic and cultural de
velopm ent than thee th at rem ained under the T urks o r th at passed to the
R ussians. Schools, Ewspapers, factories, and railroads appeared much earlier
to the north of the iava-D anube line than they did to the south of it. W hen
the Y ugoslav state vas organized after W orld W ar I it was noticeable th at
m arkedly higher eonom ic and cultural levels prevailed in regions such as
Slovenia, C roatia, nd the B anat, than in Serbia, M ontenegro, and M ace
donia. Precisely thi sam e discrepancy existed w ithin G reater R um ania be
tw een Transylvaniaon the one hand and the old Provinces on the other.
It should aso be noted th at during the nineteenth century the m ore
advanced peoples mder H apsburg rule aided their retarded brothers under
the T urks to win tieir independence. T he H apsburg Serbs, especially, con
tributed greatly to the liberation of their fellow Serbs across the D anube,
while they themsefes rem ained under foreign rule for another century. Thus
th e division of the Balkan peoples betw een a relatively advanced and strong
H apsburg E m pire ind a weak and backw ard O ttom an E m pire led to the
p aradox of the m et retard ed areas of the peninsula form ing the first inde
pendent states.

By far them ost im portant effect of O tto m an decline upon the B al

k an peoples, and a e which vitally affected th eir everyday life, was the b reak
dow n of the tim ar andholding system established at the time of the conquest,
and its replacemer. with the infinitely m ore onerous chiflik system. W e saw
in C hapter 7 thatw hen the T urks overran the peninsula they parceled out
the m ost fertile plins areas as fiefs o r tim ars to deserving w arriors. These
fief holders, or sphis, were strictly co n tro lled by the central governm ent.
T h eir obligations /ere carefully defined, as were also the rights and privi
leges of the Christan peasants or rayas. T he latter enjoyed hereditary use of

Balkan Peninsula During Ottoman Decline


their land and could not be evicted unless they failed to till it for three years.
T heir obligations consisting of tithes to the spahi, taxes to the governm ent,
and lim ited corve duty were generally lighter th an those borne at the tim e
by the peasantry of C hristian E urope. F u rtherm ore, the rayas were protected
against extortion by im perial laws o r kanuns, which specified the taxes and
services th at could be exacted in each district. T he spahis, on the other hand,
w ere required to give m ilitary service in tim e of w ar in return for the revenue
they derived from their tim ars. U nlike the rayas, they did not possess heredi
tary title to their fiefs and could be deprived of them if they failed to m eet
their m ilitary obligations.
This tim ar landholding system has been described by a T urkish his
torian as a happy com bination of the states m ilitary needs and social se
curity for the peasan try . 1 Indeed, its outstanding feature was strict control
of the spahis so th a t they could neither exploit the rayas nor defy the state.
D uring the early years of O ttom an rule, w hen this tim ar system was in its
prim e, the rayas enjoyed security and justice. B ut by the end of the sixteenth
century the system began to break down, with m ost u nfortunate repercussions
for the B alkan peasantry.
O ne reason for the deterioration of the tim ar system was the p ro
gressive weakening of the central governm ent. T he spahis prom ptly took ad
vantage of this developm ent to violate the tw o regulations th at they found
the m ost objectionable, th a t is, the nonheritable nature of their fiefs, and the
legal limits on the rayas obligations. In other words, the spahis seized the
opportunity to transform their fiefs into free and heritable property and to
exploit their rayas as they pleased.
A no th er factor contributing to the degeneration of the tim ar system
was the cessation of im perial territorial expansion after the m id-sixteenth
century. W e noted above th a t this caused serious trouble because it m eant no
m ore plunder and no m ore land for new fiefs. T he difficulties increased as the
em pire began to lose its extensive trans-D anubian territories in the late seven
teenth century. L arge num bers of spahis and officials who had lived in those
provinces now recrossed the D anube and tried to m ake a living in the B alkan
lands by obtaining new fiefs or usurping the established ones. T he increase in
the num ber of spahis led to the division of the existing tim ars, which becam e
increasingly sm aller and inadequate to support the fief holders. The distress
was accentuated by the accum ulation of num erous tim ars by certain pow er
ful individuals. This naturally produced pressure to abandon the limits set
upon the rayas obligations in o rder to increase the incom e of the spahis.
Still another factor explaining the breakdow n of the tim ar system was
the extension of the activities of the janissaries from the u rban centers to the
countryside. W e noted above th at the janissaries gradually had turned tow ard
econom ic vocations, supplem enting their m eager m ilitary pay with earnings
from com m erce and the crafts. B ut this shift was paralleled by a general
dem ographic decline. T he population of the O ttom an cities fell after 1600,
with the result that the urban m arkets shrank at the very m om ent when the


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

num ber of janissary soldier-artisans was increasing. This disparity induced

the janissaries to transfer their attention and their investm ents from urban
enterprises to the land. In various legal and illegal ways by foreclosing on
m ortgages, by offering p rotection, or by simply taking advantage of the
grow ing anarchy in o rd er to dispossess rayas and spahis the janissaries
accum ulated properties w hich they exploited as free personal holdings.
Finally, the tim ar system was underm ined by the pressure of the
constantly expanding econom y of W estern E urope. As stated above, the
general E uropean price inflation caused by the influx of New W orld bullion
began to affect the O ttom an E m pire about 1580. The resulting price dis
location disorganized the old econom ic system, including the land regime.
F urtherm ore, urban population grow th in W estern E urope necessitated food
im ports and consequently stim ulated maize cultivation throughout the
B alkans. Likewise, the rise of cotton m anufactures in the W est stim ulated
cotton cultivation on the M acedonian plains. The spread and the significance
of these new crops will be considered shortly in m ore detail. Suffice it to
note here that the foreign dem and for these new agricultural goods provided
a pow erful incentive to violate the tim ar system in order to obtain full con
trol of the land and to exploit the peasants w ithout hindrance for the p ro
duction of export com m odities.
These various factors explain the disintegration of the landholding
system established at the tim e of the conquest and the replacem ent of the
tim ars with chifliks. In some cases the spahis simply converted their tim ars
into chifliks, while in others outside individuals janissaries or powerful
officials usurped the estate or gave p rotection in return for perhaps a
third of the produce. In the latter instance the outsider cam e between the
spahi and the peasants, while the spahi continued to collect his traditional
tenth. So far as the peasant mass was concerned, the m ain change was that
the new chiflik ow ner now held the land as his full heritable property which
he could dispose of as he wished. Consequently, he was free to evict the
peasants if they refused to accept his tenancy term s. This was a far cry from
the old tim ar in which the peasant had enjoyed hereditary rights to his plot
while the spahi had been lim ited to certain specified revenue. It follows th at
rents on the chifliks were much higher than on the tim ars.
T he precise arrangem ents varied considerably from region to region,
but the following procedure was fairly w idespread and illustrates the oner
ousness of the new regime. The total crop was assem bled in the square of
the chiflik village, where one tenth o r one eighth was first taken as state tax.
T h en the necessary seed was subtracted, and the rem ainder was divided
equally between the chiflik ow ner and the tenant. Frequently, however, the
tenant received considerably less than one half because he was required to
pay the state tax farm er and the chiflik m anager for their services. Thus the
tenant usually was left with about a third of his produce.
Furtherm ore, the ten an ts freedom of m ovem ent was in practice
severely restricted, though theoretically he was not tied to the land. His low

Balkan Peninsula During Ottoman Decline


share of the gross product com m only forced him to borrow from the chiflik
ow ner in order to feed his family and to buy d raft anim als and tools. So long
as he rem ained in debt he could not leave, and since he rarely could pay off
the principal and the high interest, he was in effect bound to the estate. T hus
the peasantry th at w orked on the chiffiks were tenants in nam e b u t serfs in
fact. As late as 1860 a British consul stationed in Saloniki reported th at the
M oslem peasants had grievances as well as the C hristian, but th at the latter
were particularly oppressed by the onerous chiflik system.
As the M ussulm an peasantry are not as well off as they might be, the
distinction between the condition of the Christians and that of the Musselmans
in the villages is in some respects only relative. One point of difference consists
in the fact that the irregularities of the tax and tithes collectors and the excesses
of the police force, not to speak of the depredations of brigands, are practised
to a larger extent and with m ore barefacedness on the C hristian than on the
M ussulm an peasantry. . . . The M ussulm an peasantry, nevertheless, suffer from
the same causes as their fellow-labourers on the soil only to a sm aller degree.
T here is, however, a positive difference, and a very im portant one, in the condi
tion of the Christian peasants on the farm s ( tchiftliks ) held by Turkish p ro
prietors. They are forcibly tied to the spot by means of a perpetual and even
hereditary debt which their landlord contrives to fasten upon them . This has
practically reduced many of the peasant families to a state of serfdom . As an
illustration I may mention that when a tchiftlik is sold, the bonds of the peasantry
are transferred with the stock to the new proprietor. In Thessaly there are Chris
tians who own farm s on the same conditions. U pon one occasion in which the
landlord, who was a m erchant, had becom e a bankrupt, 1 rem em ber noticing th at
am ongst the assets borne on his balance-sheet there figured the aggregate am ount
of the peasants debts to him, and it form ed a rather large item .

T he form ation of the chiffiks was never legally recognized but they
were tolerated to such an extent th a t they eventually replaced the tim ars as
the basis of O ttom an feudalism . T he conversion process began in the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and continued m ore rapidly during
the following two centuries. T he chiffiks spread throughout the fertile plains
areas, including the Peloponnesus, Thessaly, M acedonia, T hrace, the M aritsa
Valley, D anubian B ulgaria, the K osovo-M etahija basins, parts of Bosnia,
and the coastal plains of A lbania.
The oppressiveness of the chiflik system together with the disorder
and brigandage arising from the deterioration of central authority led to
w idespread depopulation in the countryside. This reached such proportions
th at decrees w ere issued against the influx of peasants into C onstantinople.
E ven so, E u ro p ean observers frequently reported the abandonm ent of hold
ings and the disappearance of villages. As early as 1675, Rev. John Covel
wrote as follows: I assure you this p a rt of T hrace is very little inhabited
and lesse cultivated. . . . I am confident, above 2 thirds of the land lyes unoccupyed. . . . In many, m any miles riding, we saw neither corn-field, nor
pasture, nor llocks, nor herds, but onely wild neglected cham pion [unculti


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

vated] g round. 3 By the beginning of the nineteenth century another British

traveler observed,
I should have m entioned a p art of Bulgaria, and a great p art of E u ro
pean T urkey, except the countries tow ards the A driatic and H ungary, as alm ost
destitute of inhabitants. This state of the country is particularly striking on the
road from Belgrade through Sophia, Phillippopolis, and A drianople, to C on
stantinople. . . . In taking a separate view of E uropean T urkey, of G reece, and
of Egypt, we shall find sim ilar traces of that devastation, occasioned by the com
plicated evils under which this em pire has so long groaned.4


T he period of O ttom an decline in the B alkan lands was characterized

also by the rapid developm ent of com m erce and industry, with the at
tendant rise of a class of m erchants, artisans, shipow ners, and m ariners. O ne
reason for this econom ic trend was the shift to chifliks. This in tu rn led to
the w idespread cultivation of the new colonial products, cotton and maize,
w hich were exported to W estern E urope, where there was a steady and
grow ing dem and. C otton first began to be grow n in the Serres region of
E astern M acedonia in the late seventeenth century and then its cultivation
spread w estw ard to Saloniki and Thessaly. By the second half of the eight
eenth century, cotton was by far the m ost im portant product of M acedonia
and Thessaly. It was exported overland by way of the D anube to B udapest
and V ienna, and also by sea through Trieste and Saloniki. M aize cultivation
was also introduced in the seventeenth century. U nlike cotton, it was possi
ble to grow maize in m any p arts of the peninsula. By the second half of the
eighteenth century it was being exported from several regions, including the
plains of D urazzo, the E pirote Plain of A rta, the coastal plains of A lbania,
the D anubian Principalities, and the Peloponnesus. In m ost cases the maize
was grow n for export purposes, the w orkers on the chifliks living on sorghum .
It is significant that the geographic p attern of maize and cotton cultivation
corresponded to the geographic p attern of the chiflik institution. T he free
m ountain villages were the last to accept the new m aize culture.
The developm ent of the new crops for export in turn contributed to
the grow th of a class of native B alkan m erchants and m ariners. Foreign m er
chants and shipping handled m uch of the export business but a considerable
p ro p o rtio n fell to the new entrepreneurs. T he result was a rapid grow th of
the R agusan, Dulcignote, and G reek m erchant fleets, and also the enrich
m ent of the G reek and M acedonian m erchants who controlled m uch of the
overland trade up the D anube Valley into C entral E urope.
A nother factor th a t contributed to the growth of B alkan com m erce
was the restoration of peace by the 1699 K arlow itz T reaty, which perm itted
the resum ption of trade betw een the B alkan lands and the H apsburg E m
pire and Venice. Equally im portant was the Russian expansion to the Black

Balkan Peninsula During Ottoman Decline


Sea at the end of the eighteenth century. This m ade possible the exploitation
of the U krainian plains, which in tu rn led to a lively com m erce betw een the
R ussian Black Sea ports and the Balkan lands. Finally, the A nglo-French
w ars of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries disrupted com m erce in
the M editerranean and ruined the W estern m erchants w ho had established
them selves in various B alkan ports and had m onopolized the overseas trade.
Local m erchants prom ptly took the place of the W esterners and exported
B alkan products through overland trade channels into C entral Europe.
These developm ents enorm ously increased the volum e of B alkan
com m erce, both foreign and dom estic. T rade was carried along transversal
and longitudinal routes. T he transversal routes began in the A driatic ports
of D ubrovnik (R a g u sa ), Split (S p a la to ), D urazzo, and A rta, and ended in
Novi Bazar, Belgrade, Saloniki, Serres, V arna, and C onstantinople. The
longitudinal routes began in Budapest and C hernovtsy (C e rn a u ti), and ended
in Saloniki and C onstantinople. A t first the G reeks, Jews, and V lachs con
trolled m ost of the trade, b u t gradually the Serbs and B ulgars also partici
pated in it.
The expansion of trade in tu rn stim ulated the dem and and the out
p u t of handicraft products. Im p o rtan t m anufacturing centers appeared in
various parts of the peninsula, frequently in isolated m ountain areas where
the artisans could practice their crafts with a m inim um of T urkish interfer
ence. In Bulgaria and G reece particularly, village artisans turned out sub
stantial quantities of woolen and cotton thread and textiles, stockings, clothes,
carpets, silks, and furs. M ost of the o u tp u t was m arketed within the em pire,
b u t certain products were also exported to foreign countries, m ostly in C en
tral E urope. T he degree of industrial expansion can be easily exaggerated.
It never approached W estern proportions for various reasons, including the
lack of security, the com petition of W estern m anufactured goods, the active
opposition of W estern consuls and the absence of a persistent m ercantilist or
cam eralist policy on the p art of the O ttom an governm ent. N evertheless, the
fact rem ains th at industrial o utput in the B alkans rose sharply during the
course of the eighteenth century.
T he rise of com m erce and industry stim ulated the grow th of a m er
chant m arine. T he m ost im portant m aritim e centers were along the D alm a
tian coast (Z adar, K otor, T rogir, Split, and R agusa, or D u b rovnik), the
A lbanian and E piro te coast (D urazzo and A rta ) and the G reek littoral and
islands (H ydra, Spetsai, Psara, G alaxidi, and C re te ). T he new m erchant
m arine exported B alkan products such as cotton, m aize and other grains,
dyeing m aterials, wine, oil, and fruits, especially currants. In return they
brought back m ostly m anufactured goods and colonial products, particularly
spices, sugar, woolens, glass, w atches, guns, and gunpow der.


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815


T he developm ents in agriculture, com m erce, and industry had farreaching political repercussions. O ne was the appearance of a persistent and
growing bandit m ovem ent. T he bolder peasants, driven to desperation by the
extortion and exploitation arising from the breakdow n of order and the
spread of chifliks, abandoned their plots and took to the m ountains or forests,
w here they led the perilous b u t free lives of outlaws. In G reece these outlaws
w ere know n as klephts, in Serbia as haiduks, and in Bulgaria as haiduts.
These m en refused to accept any T urkish authority w hatsoever. Instead, they
organized them selves into small bands of tw enty to a hundred men, though
som etim es they num bered as m any as two or three hundred. They robbed the
T urks and som etim es the rich C hristian oligarchs and the m onks of the wellstocked m onasteries, in preference to the p oor peasants or the parish priests.
T hey cam e to be regarded, therefore, not as ordinary brigands but rather as
cham pions of the lowly and the dow ntrodden. C ountless ballads glorified
them as rom antic R obin H oods perform ing spectacular feats against the
T urkish ty ran t and against oppression in general.
T heir chief historical significance is th at they kept alive the idea of
justice and freedom . T hey them selves had no political consciousness or ide
ology. T heir ballads did not call on the C hristians to create independent
B alkan states. Instead, they glorified local skirm ishes and extolled the fabu
lous exploits and m agnificent trappings of individual guerrilla heroes. These
w arriors were alm ost invariably illiterate. They had no com prehension of the
cultural and historical traditions of their respective peoples. A G reek scholar
of this period relates th a t when he met the renow ned guerrilla leader Nikotsaras, he acclaim ed his prowess as equal to that of Achilles. N ikotsaras was
deeply offended that he should be com pared to an unknow n. W hat nonsense
is th is, he replied indignantly, and who is this Achilles? Did the m usket
of A chilles kill m any? 5
D espite their lim itations, these outlaw s did create a tradition of resist
ance th at profoundly influenced the popular mind. A nd they also provided a
ready-m ade fighting force w hen various factors which they dimly com pre
hended culm inated in the series of national uprisings in the nineteenth century.
T he spread of chifliks produced not only bands of outlaw s but also
periodic peasant revolts. T he contrast was very sharp betw een the exploita
tive chiflik system and the original tim ar arrangem ent which had provided
security and justice to the C hristian peasantry. T he peasants naturally re
sented their new degraded status in which they lost rights to their plots and
lacked protection against excessive levies and corve duties. The result was
th at peasant revolts becam e increasingly frequent as the chifliks, which first
appeared in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, spread steadily
during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. T he significance of these re
volts is th at they provided the mass basis for the nationalist m ovem ents and

Balkan Peninsula During Ottoman Decline


insurrections th at developed am ong all the B alkan peoples during the late
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
T he leadership of the nationalist m ovem ents was assum ed to a con
siderable degree by the new m iddle-class elem ents created by the grow th of
com m erce and industry. These groups, by their very nature, were dissatisfied
with the O ttom an status quo. They had little use for a governm ent that was
unable to m aintain roads, curb brigands, or prevent the open and never-ending extortions of its own officials. In this respect the following anonym ous
letter th a t appeared in the M oscow jou rn al Vestnik E vropy [Herald of
Europe] in January, 1805, is revealing:
. . . the insecurity of life and property take away the stim ulus to establish fac
tories. Even the boyars in the D anubian Principalities consider this dangerous. . . .
N ot long ago a w ealthy lord, Sandulati Sturza, the son-in-law of the present
hospodar, M uruzi, started a woolen factory, but for safetys sake he built it in
his village and not in town. . . . They have no understanding of prom issory notes.
. . . [Borrowers] have to pay 30 to 40 percent, which sum is subtracted at once
from the loan. F or transfer to G erm any or to France, the banker charges 10 to
20 percent.0

T he new m iddle-class groups also tended to be radically m inded be

cause of their contacts with the W est. M erchants and seam en who journeyed
to foreign lands could not help contrasting the security and enlightenm ent
they witnessed abroad with the deplorable conditions at hom e. V ery naturally
they would conclude th at their own future, and th a t of their fellow country
m en, depended upon the earliest possible rem oval of the T urkish incubus. It
does not follow that every m erchant and shipow ner was an ardent revolu
tionary. We shall see later that when the G reek W ar of Independence began in
1821 some of the fabulously w ealthy shipow ning families hesitated to enter the
struggle precisely because they had so m uch to lose. B ut they were excep
tions. M ore typical of this group was the following lam ent of a G reek m er
chant, Jo h n Priggos, who had m ade his fortune in A m sterdam . W hile living
in that city he had been im pressed by the security and justice with which
com m ercial operations could be conducted.
But all this cannot exist under the T urk. H e has neither order nor justice.
A nd if the capital is one thousand he multiplies it tenfold so that he may loot
and im poverish others, not realizing th a t the w ealth of his subjects is the wealth
of his kingdom . . . . he is altogether unjust, and he is not one for creating any
thing b u t only for destroying. M ay the A lm ighty ruin him so th at G reece may
becom e C hristian, and justice may prevail, and governm ents may be created as
in E urope where everyone has his own w ithout fear of any injustice. . . .7

M erchants like Priggos m ade im portant contributions to B alkan na

tional developm ent n o t only because of their political activities but also be
cause of their role as interm ediaries betw een their native countries and the
outside w orld. T he Serbian m erchants in southern H ungary, the Bulgarian


A g e o f O ttom an D ecline: 1 5 6 6 -1 8 1 5

m erchants in southern R ussia and in the D anubian Principalities, and the

G reek m erchants scattered widely in foreign cities such as Trieste, Venice,
V ienna, A m sterdam , B udapest, B ucharest, and Odessa, all contributed greatly
to the intellectual aw akening of their fellow countrym en. T hey did so by
bestow ing upon their native tow ns and villages lavish gifts of books, equip
m ent, and money. F requently they financed the education of young m en of
their race in foreign universities. A lso, they m ade possibile the publication of
books and new spapers in their native languages. These books usually were
p rinted in E uro p ean cities and then shipped to the B alkan lands. It is strik
ing and significant th at the first G reek new spaper and the first Serbian news
p ap er were published in V ienna in 1790 and 1791, respectively; th at for m any
years alm ost all Serbian and B ulgarian books in the Cyrillic script were
prin ted by the B udapest U niversity press; th a t the first B ulgarian book was
published in R im nik, W allachia, in 1806; th at the Philike H etairia w hich
planned the G reek W ar of Independence was organized in 1814 by G reek
m erchants in O dessa; th a t B ulgarian m erchants in the sam e city were re
sponsible for the first B ulgarian schools and the first Bulgarian textbooks
used in their hom eland; and th at Novi Sad in southern H ungary was for long
know n as the Serbian A thens because of its contributions to the develop
m ent of Serbian culture and national consciousness.

T he various forces analyzed above created a new intellectual clim ate
in the B alkan w orld. T here was not only m ore education b u t a new type of
education. It was no longer prim arily religious. Instead, it was profoundly
influenced by the current E nlightenm ent in W estern E urope. T he students
who studied abroad returned with a firsthand knowledge of the new body of
thought. A contem porary P rotestant m issionary com plained:

The educated portion of Greece, the elite of her gifted sons, are in the
habit of sipping the poison of Voltaire and of Rousseau, whose writings have been
put into modern Greek. I have met Greeks who have keenly defended the chilly
theory of deism, and to meet their sophistries requires talent. . . . Can we won
der, therefore, if an impious, ignorant, lifeless [Greek] ministry produce a host
of infidels? Is it at all surprising that young Greeks educated in Italy, Germany,
France or England, should return to the classic land disciples of Alfieri, of
Schiller, of Voltaire, of Lord Shaftesbury? 8
As the m issionary observed, the w orks of V oltaire and of R ousseau,
and also of Locke, D escartes, Leibnitz, and others, were now being translated,
usually into G reek first, and then into the other B alkan languages. T he
G reeks to o k the lead for various reasons. T hey had m ore contacts with' the
W est because of their geographic position and extensive com m erce; their
m erchants were m ore num erous and provided m ore funds for general edu
cational purposes; m oreover, their language and culture had been dom inant

B alkan Peninsula D uring O ttom an D ecline


for centuries and had prevailed in the church schools in their hom eland and,
indeed, throughout the peninsula. T hese advantages enabled the G reeks to
take the lead in translating foreign authors as well as in transform ing their
educational system. They were the first to break clerical control of educa
tion and to establish secular schools with hum anistic curricula. H itherto m ost
schools had been content to train the children to read the church service
books, to w rite simple letters, and to do simple figuring. N ow w ell-equipped
new schools were built using new texts and offering new subjects, including
m odern languages and sciences.
This developm ent was of im portance for the G reeks and their neigh
bors. This was especially true in R um ania, where G reek adm inistrators, m er
chants, and teachers occupied a prom inent position. In fact, B ucharest so
ciety was essentially G reco-R um anian in character, and it was directly and
fully influenced by intellectual currents in the G reek world. G reek teachers
taught at the A cadem y of B ucharest and at its counterpart in Jassy. G reek
new spapers published in V ienna circulated widely throughout the Princi
palities. G reek translations of W estern authors were com m on, and the French
originals also could be read because of the new m odern language instruction
in the schools. T hus at a tim e when there was no direct contact betw een
B ucharest and the W estern capitals, W estern ideas penetrated to the P rin
cipalities through G reek channels by way of C onstantinople and Greece.
It is also notew orthy th at a considerable num ber of B ulgarian pupils
attended the new G reek schools. This is understandable in view of the fact
th at in 1750 only tw enty-eight so-called cloister schools were to be found in
B ulgaria, of which only tw o were located in tow ns and the rem ainder in
villages. T hese cloister schools were of a very low level, offering only a little
arithm etic, and reading and writing in the old C hurch Slavonic th at was
incom prehensible to the people. C onsequently, B ulgarian students flocked to
G reek schools in A thens, Chios, Y anina, C onstantinople, Sm yrna, B ucharest,
Jassy, and elsewhere. T he teaching naturally was in G reek b u t the significant
point was its secular content. This h ad a dynam ic effect upon the B ulgarian
students who returned to their hom eland and spread the new learning. They
opened w hat were called G reco-Slav schools which represented a tran si
tion betw een the older cloister schools and the fully B ulgarian schools started
in the 1830s w ith the support of B ulgarian m erchants in O dessa.* Bulgarian
scholars have recognized the contribution of G reek learning to their national

We should recognize, despite everything, that our renaissance owes much

to the Greek schools. They gave instruction, education and progress to the Bul
garian people. . . . Several of our Bulgarian leaders received their education in
Greek schools. . . . Greece, because of her favorable geographic position, came
under the influence of Italy, and through the medium of Greece this influence
also contributed to our renaissance.9
* Sec Chapter 19.


A g e of O ttom an Decline: 1 5 6 6 -1 8 1 5

Serbian students also attended G reek schools. O utstanding was

D im itrije O bradovich (c. 1 7 4 3 -1 8 1 1 ), the founder of m odern Serbian lit
erature.* A n im portant stage in his intellectual developm ent was his attend
ance at a G reek school in Sm yrna betw een O ctober, 1765, and A pril, 1766.
O bradovich him self relates th at his teacher was

free from all superstition . . . a sworn foe and rehuker of monkish abuses, false
hoods and begging; of fraudulent ikons and relics; and of miracles wrought for
money. Whenever anybody told him that such and such an ikon was miraculous,
he would inquire: Does it float in the air all by itself, or is it nailed or pasted on a
wall or hung on a peg? And when he heard that the first of these things was not
true and the second was, he would say, So you see that it is not miraculous. 10
W hen O bradovich left Sm yrna he was well on his way to becom ing
an eighteenth-century rationalist. His new ideas were crystallized and deep
ened when he journeyed to V ienna in 1771. L ater, when he registered as a
student at the university in H alle, he began, as he put it,

to publish a book on my own adventures, in which I had two primary purposes:

first, to show the uselessness of monasteries for society; and second, to show the
great need for sound learning, as the most effective method of freeing men from
superstition and of guiding them to a true reverence for God, to rational piety,
and to enlightened virtue, whereby a man gifted with reason enters on the true
path of his temporal and eternal welfare.11
O bradovich was as ardent a nationalist as he was a rationalist. In his
writings he addressed him self to every person who understands our lan
guage. . . . 1 shall pay no heed w hatever to w hat religion and faith any m an
belongs, n o r is th a t a m atter for consideration in the present enlightened
age. 12
O bradovich had m any counterparts in G reece, outstanding being the
revolutionary Rhigas Pheraios ( 1 7 5 7 - 1 7 9 8 ) .f Rhigas likewise turned his
back on religious distinctions. In his fam ous revolutionary song, T hourios,
he called on all enslaved peoples, C hristian o r M oslem , white or N egro, to
rise sim ultaneously in revolt from Bosnia to A rab ia. His fiery slogans were
the com plete antithesis of O rthodox theocratic ideology: Freedom of faith
for all ; O ur hearts for our cou n try ; D raw the sword for liberty. 13
A nother prom inent G reek exponent of the new ideology was the
educator A dam antios Kora'is. B orn in Sm yrna, he cam e as a youth under the
influence of a D utch p asto r who acquainted him with the Enlightenm ent. In
1782 he left for F rance to study m edicine and never returned to his hom e
land. T he im pact upon him of W estern society, and especially of the city of
P aris, is reflected in the following letter he w rote to a friend:

I have been in the celebrated city of Paris since the 24th of May [1788],
the home of arts and science, the Athens of today. Imagine a city, much larger
* For details concerning Obradovich, see Chapter 14.
[For more details concerning Khigas, see Chiiplcr 15.

Balkan Peninsula D uring O ttom an Decline


than Constantinople, with 800,000 people, all sorts of academies, public libraries,
where science and art have been developed to perfection, where learned men
are to be seen all over the city, in boulevards, market places, cafes, etc. In the
latter place you find political and literary newspapers written in German, English,
and French, and in all other languages. . . . Such, my friends, is Paris. Anyone is
bound to be astonished at these things, but for a Greek who knows that his an
cestors had reached, two thousand years ago in Athens, an equal (if not higher)
degree of learning, his surprise is mingled with melancholy. And when, more
over, he realizes that all these blessings exist no longer in Greece but have instead
been replaced by myriad evils, that where once governed the wise laws of Solon
(whose name, my friend, I have often heard mentioned with reverence by the
learned men here) now reign ignorance, malice, force, wickedness, insolence,
and shamelessness, that instead of a Miltiades and Themistocles, whom Europe
still admires, we are governed by scoundrels and stupid men as well as by an
ignorant clergy who are even worse than our foreign tyrants the Turks. When, 1
say, the unfortunate Greek is confronted with these things and recalls the past,
then, my friend, his melancholy becomes sheer indignation and despair.14
In this m anner the B alkan w orld was thoroughly transform ed, so
th at by the beginning of the nineteenth century it was quite different from
w hat it had been a century or tw o earlier. Ecclesiastics no longer were the
sole spokesm en of the faithful; priests no longer were the sole teachers in the
schools; and theological treatises no longer were the sole texts for instruc
tion. T he Age of T heocracy was giving way to a new Age of N ationalism
an age of secular ideas and leaders and aspirations.

T he O rthodox C hurch, as an institution, was generally hostile to the
new currents of secularism and nationalism . Before considering the reasons
for this situation it should be noted th at the church contributed fundam entally
to the preservation of the identity of the Balkan peoples. It is true that C hris
tianity rested very lightly on the mass of the peasantry, which was illiterate
and superstitious. Y et the fact rem ains th at religion did serve as a barrier
between the M oslem T urks and their C hristian subjects, thereby forestalling
the possibility of racial and cultural assim ilation. Religion also represented a
basic elem ent in B alkan historical tradition and helped to keep alive m em
ories of past independence and greatness. F urtherm ore, the church was the
repository of the feeble rem nants of literacy and culture during the centuries
of darkness. Finally, the church served as a com m on and strengthening bond
am ong the Balkan C hristians until the advent of disruptive nationalism .
These factors were operative and significant during m ost of the pe
riod of T urkish rule. B ut by the eighteenth century a rift began to develop
betw een the church and the new elem ents in B alkan society that were chal
lenging the status quo. T he explanation is to be found in the position that
the church occupied in the O ttom an im perial fram ew ork. W e saw in C hap
ter 4 that M oham m ed II had granted the church extensive ecclesiastical and


A g e of O ttom an Decline: 1 5 6 6 -1 8 1 5

secular jurisdiction im m ediately after capturing C onstantinople. B ut in the

following centuries the church becam e corrupt and dem oralized and incapable
of independent action.
T he m ain reason for this deterioration was the simony which per
m eated the entire ecclesiastical structure. This evil was partly a reflection of
the co rru p t O ttom an bureaucracy, but it was also a result of the rivalries of
church factions th a t did not hesitate to intrigue and to bribe in order to o b
tain the coveted patriarch al throne. O ne of these factions succeeded as early
as 1467 in deposing the incum bent p atriarch by offering to pay one thousand
gold pieces to the O ttom an governm ent. T his practice proceeded apace, with
the T u rk s naturally encouraging it until it becam e the rule. Large sums were
spent regularly as bribes to courtiers, eunuchs, janissaries, and fem ale favor
ites of the sultans. T he p atriarch ate cam e to resem ble the medieval Papacy
in the m eans em ployed to control elections. O f the 159 patriarchs who held
office betw een the fifteenth and tw entieth centuries, 105 were dethroned by
the T urks; 27 abdicated, m any of them involuntarily; 6 suffered violent
deaths by hanging, poisoning, or drow ning; and only 21 died natural deaths
while in office. It is apparent that an institution functioning under such con
ditions was quite incapable of independent decision or action.
T he churchs freedom of action was further ham pered by the fact
th a t it was p art and parcel of the O ttom an im perial m achinery. T he patriarch
had the rank of vizir, and his bishops in the provinces w orked together with
the T urkish governors. T he chu rch s position in the em pire certainly was not
ideal, but it was recognized and established, and this inevitably led to a
certain reluctance to challenge the status quo.
T he church becam e furth er com prom ised in its relations with the
O tto m an state w hen the Phanariotes gained a preponderant position in
church councils. T he origins and role of the P hanariotes will be exam ined
in C hap ter 15. Suffice it to note here th at they were G reeks who entered the
O tto m an service and gained great pow er and w ealth as adm inistrators, tax
farm ers, m erchants, and contractors. T he Phanariotes then infiltrated the
P atriarch ate, and w ith their w ealth and governm ent connections they were
able by the end of the seventeenth century to dom inate the church. A t one
point they w ere in a position to intervene decisively in the election of all
church officials, including the patriarch himself. In view of the fact th at the
Phanariotes were O tto m an officials, their predom inance in the church n a t
urally com m itted th a t institution m ore th a n ever to the im perial status quo.
It does not follow from the above th at the O rthodox prelates were at
all tim es loyal to the sultan. In certain respects their position in the em pire
was am bivalent, which in tu rn m ade their own attitude and conduct am biva
lent. M em bers of the O rthodox clergy, from the highest to the lowest, were
subject to the caprice of the sultan and his m inisters. Y et these same clergy
exercised a civil authority over their C hristian followers th at they had never
possessed in Byzantine times. T heir church property was subject to pillage
and confiscation, but in spiritual affairs the M oslem overlord, in contrast to

Balkan Peninsula D uring O ttom an Decline


his Byzantine predecessor, was indifferent and aloof. T hus the church was at
once pam pered and scorned, privileged and persecuted. Correspondingly, the
church leaders w avered betw een loyalty and sedition tow ard the O ttom an
m aster. As a rule they exhorted the faithful to respect the new em peror in
C onstantinople to render unto C aesar such things as were C aesars. Y et it
was ever galling th at the C aesar should be a M oslem sultan. A nd when this
sultan becam e progressively w eaker, and his rule progressively corrupt and
tyrannical, some O rthodox leaders tu rn ed to another C aesar who was both
C hristian and O rthodox the tsar of R ussia.
A considerable num ber of patriarchs, bishops, and m onks m ade the
pilgrim age to M oscow to im plore the aid of our T sa r, our O rthodox
T sar, o u r sovereign of the T rue F a ith . T he petitioners cam e not only from
C onstantinople but also from the Serbian, Bulgarian, and R um anian lands.
T he bishop of T ransylvania presented to T sar Alexis in 1668 a petition that
was typical of others, both before and after.

We will contribute willingly whatever will help to defeat the Turks, but
nothing is possible without the help of other Christians and other sovereigns, and
without the will and aid of God. . . . A large number of Orthodox Slavs live in
these regions: Serbs, Bulgarians and Wallachian's, and all these people wait only
for the signal to be given to fall upon the vile Turk; since they groan in misery
and oppression they would form, with the permission of God, a completely pre
pared army.15
Such appeals were n atu ral and understandable, for they were m ade
to the T sar of Holy Russia, the P rotector of the T rue F aith. But when the
call for revolution cam e from W estern-inspired leaders who wished to estab
lish m odern nation-states rath er than to further the cause of O rthodoxy, the
church leaders inevitably reacted violently. They did so not only for m ate
rial reasons, not merely because of historic and advantageous com m itm ents
to the O ttom an regime. They were also repelled because of ideological con
siderations. The new doctrines from the W est represented a challenge to the
intellectual foundations of B alkan O rthodoxy. T hroughout the centuries of
O ttom an rule the O rthodox C hurch had been profoundly anti-W estern. It
had opposed the W est because it was the hom e of C atholicism and Protes
tantism and because it was the birthplace of the R enaissance with its ration
alism and secularism. T hus the church now regarded the F rench Revolution
and its attendant ideology as the abom inable culm ination of this m odern
secular trend. It denounced the tenets of the E nlightenm ent and it opposed the
agitation for revolution and for national independence. This opposition ex
tended to all B alkan national m ovem ents not m erely to the South Slav and
R um anian, as is often assum ed, but also to the G reek.
Thus we find the C onstantinople P atriarch ate prohibiting under pen
alty of excom m unication the reading of those w orks of Rhigas Pheraios
th at related to the church. W e find also the p atriarch cooperating with the
_ sultan in measures against the klephts. W hen the latter becam e dangerously


A g e of O ttom an Decline: 1 5 6 6 -1 8 1 5

strong in the Peloponnesus in the opening years of the nineteenth century, the
patriarch, at the request of the sultan, issued a synodal excom m unication
directed against all C hristians who refused to aid the authorities in the drive
against the klephts. T he m ost detailed exposition of the antinational attitude
of the church hierarchy at this time is to be found in the pam phlet Paternal
Instructions, published in 1798 in C onstantinople under the nam e of A nthim os, P atriarch of Jerusalem , though the actual author appears to have
been the Patriarch of C onstantinople, G regory V. The pam phlet propounds
the thesis th at the O ttom an E m pire is a divinely sanctioned institution estab
lished to ensure the religious liberty of the O rthodox and to protect them
from the heresies of the West.

Behold, how our merciful and omniscient Lord has arranged things, to
preserve again the integrity of the holy and Orthodox faith of us, the pious, and
to redeem everybody; He raised from nothing this powerful kingdom of the
Ottomans instead of our Roman [Byzantine] kingdom, which had somehow
started to deviate in matters of our Christian orthodox spirit. And He raised that
Ottoman kingdom above any other kingdom, to prove beyond doubt that this
was according to His divine will . . . and to provide a great mystery, that is the
salvation of His chosen people. . . .
The Devil devised another evil trick in the current century. . . . that is,
the now much-talked-of system of liberty, which on the surface seems as if it
were good. . . . But there is an enticement of the Devil and a destructive poison
destined to cast people down into catastrophe and disorder.
Brethren, do not be cheated out of the way of salvation. . . . Close your
ears and give no attention at all to those newly professed hopes of freedom. . . .
Besides being contrary to the Holy Scriptures, they are professed deceitfully to
cheat you and strip you of any heavenly and earthly wealth. Everywhere this
illusory evil system of liberty has caused poverty, murders, losses, plunder. De
ceitful, Christian brethren, arc the teachings of those new apostles, and be careful.
He [the Sultan] is, after God, their Lord,
The depository of the goods and guardian of their life.
Both divine and human laws command strongly,
Call both young and old to faith and submission.
And above all, the Scripture says, that we should pray
For our king constantly. . . .
And that he who opposes such authority
Opposes the command of God himself.
As we are indebted (to the Sultan] for all the charities
We enjoy, both the old and young of us,
Not only should we surrender every possession of ours
But also detest every anarchy.16
A reply to this apologia for the status quo was published in the same
year, 1798, in the form of a brochure by Korai's entitled B rotherly Instruc
tions. Korai's criticized the argum ent that the Turkish conquest
was divinely
ordained in order to shield O rthodox from W estern heresies. He pointed

Balkan Peninsula During O ttom an D ecline


out th at this protection had never been extended to the m ore num erous
O rthodox Christians in Russia, and he denounced O ttom an dom ination as an
abom ination rather than a divine blessing. T he patriarch, added K orais,
should have censured the corruption of the clergy who were fleecing their
flocks. It is readily understood, he wrote, why the rapacious clergy fear
the destruction of the O ttom an Em pire and the attainm ent of liberty, because
it will m ark the beginning of their own m isfortune. 17
In the sam e year th at this polem ical exchange took place, the revolu
tionary Rhigas Pheraios was apprehended by the T urks and executed. As he
was about to die he declared defiantly, I have sown. O thers will reap. H is
tory soon vindicated him and repudiated the patriarch. T he reason was th at
the church no longer had the inlluence th at it had enjoyed a century or two
earlier. Its position had been underm ined by the com bination of forces de
scribed above. The Age of T hcoracy was giving way, and with the coming
of the nineteenth century one after another of the Balkan peoples took up
arms to win the liberty that the patriarch had denounced and that Rhigas and
Korais had acclaim ed.

10. D efeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube:

1 5 6 6 -1 6 9 9

J . H E c e n t u r y f o l l o w i n g the death of Suleiman in

1566 was generally one of decline and dem oralization. Y et during this period
the O ttom an Em pire lost no territory. Its far-flung frontiers rem ained un
broken. T he explanation is to be found in the fact th at the neighboring states
at this tim e were equally w eak and disorganized. Persia experienced a revival
under A bbas I b u t sank back into her usual anarchy following his death in
1629. T he H apsburgs offered no serious th reat to O ttom an integrity during
the long and ineffectual reign of E m p ero r R udolf from 1576 to 1612. Six
years later the o utbreak of the T hirty Y ears W ar provided the T urks with
another long respite from foreign aggression. Thus a fortunate com bination
of historical accidents enabled the O ttom an E m pire to reach the m id-seven
teenth century intact if not unscathed.
D uring the second half of the seventeenth century the O ttom an E m
pire suffered devastating defeats and lost extensive territories. This occurred
despite the fact th a t the em pire at this tim e experienced a m arked recovery
under the leadership of the great Kiuprili grand vizirs. T he paradox is to be
explained by new diplom atic and m ilitary developm ents. T he H apsburg em
peror, L eopold I, organized an overw helm ing anti-T urkish coalition includ
ing P oland, Venice, and Russia. H e also com m anded the services of three
rem arkable m ilitary leaders, the D uke of L orraine, the M arquis of B aden,
and Prince E ugene of Savoy. These m en enjoyed the great advantage of new
m ilitary techniques th a t had em erged from the T hirty Y ears W ar b u t which
had n o t yet been adopted by the T urks. T he seventeenth century conse
quently closed with the epoch-m aking T reaty of K arlow itz in which for the
first time the ever-victorious frontier shrank back from the walls of V ienna
to the valley of the D anube.


Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699

s e lim


i i : 1 5 6 6 -1 5 7 4

Selim II was a very different m an from his distinguished father and

predecessor, Suleim an the M agnificent. T he latter owed his reputation in p art
to his im pressive appearance and irreproachable character. T he H apsburg
am bassador Busbecq describes him as frugal and tem perate, a strict
guardian of his religion and its cerem onies, not indulging in w ine, and of
a general physical appearance w orthy of the ruler of so vast an em pire. 1
Selim was the exact opposite in alm ost every respect lazy, fat, dissipated,
and so addicted to wine th a t he was know n to his subjects as Selim the Sot.
Y et he was not as degenerate as his disgraceful successors. H e was not the
puppet of harem intrigues. A lthough lacking the driving force and self-discipline of his father, he was intelligent, artistic, a fine poet, and capable of ac
cepting good advice. H e stands, in short, halfway betw een the great sultans
who preceded him and the pathetic creatures th at followed.
D uring Selims reign additional territories were obtained at the ex
pense of V enice in the west and Persia in the east. T he acquisition of V ene
tian territory points up a notable shift in O ttom an foreign policy. U nder
Suleim an it had been directed against the H apsburgs. Some of Selims ad
visers favored the continuation of this policy. They wished particularly to
strike against E m p ero r C harless son, Philip 11 of Spain, who had hounded
the M oors out of his country. O ther advisers favored, instead, an attack
upon the V enetian-held island of C yprus, which was being used by C hris
tian corsairs to prey upon O ttom an com m erce and upon the pilgrim traffic
to M ecca. T he latter course was adopted, and in M ay, 1570, a fleet sailed
from C onstantinople for Cyprus.
T he V enetians soon discovered that aid from other C hristian states
was not forthcom ing. T he only pow er in a position to give substantial assist
ance was Spain. It might be im agined th at this country w ould welcome a
V enetian alliance, given the constant threat of O ttom an aggression and the
never-ending depredations of the M oslem N orth A frican corsairs. Y et Philip
held back, fearing th a t the V enetians would use a Spanish alliance to m ake
term s with the T urks and leave them free to attack him . N or were his fears
wholly unjustified. W e know th at the Signiory throughout this period con
ducted secret negotiations with C onstantinople. Even the V enetians them
selves were concerned lest an alliance with Spain should increase Spanish
influence in Italy and threaten their own predom inance in the A driatic. U nder
these circum stances it is not surprising th at the negotiations dragged on for
over a year. T he only disinterested figure on the scene was Pope Pius V, and
it was largely due to his efforts th at a T riple A lliance (Spain, Venice, and the
P apacy), was concluded on M ay 20, 1571. By th a t date it was too late to save
T he T urks had landed on the island on July 1, 1570. T hey laid
siege to the capital, N icosia, and cap tu red it on A ugust 8. T hen they p ro
ceeded to invest Fam agusta, the principal fortress of Cyprus. It was heroically


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

defended by a m ixed force of Italians and G reeks under the com m and of
B ragadin, a gallant and experienced V enetian general. H opes were raised at
first by the news th a t an allied fleet of 187 ships was com ing to the rescue.
B ut the com m ander of the Spanish contingent had received secret instructions
from Philip II to procrastinate and to avoid com m itting his ships in battle.
These orders were carried out so effectively th at the fleet did not reach Crete
until Septem ber. It was then decided th at it was too late in the season to
proceed further. T he expedition turned back, leaving the defenders of F am a
gusta to their fate.
T he siege dragged on through the w inter of 1570. It was not until
A ugust of the following year th at the garrison surrendered, its provisions
exhausted and only seven barrels of pow der rem aining. T he T urks paid dearly
for the victory, suffering some fifty thousand casualties. This heavy loss may
account for the perfidious breach of the surrender term s. A fter prom ising
to spare the lives of the defenders, the T urks executed B ragadins im m ediate
com panions, tortu red him to death, and m ade captives of the rest. But when
the victors arrived in C onstantinople with the prisoners and booty, they found
the capital gloomy and depressed. News had just arrived of the great C hris
tian naval victory at L ep an to on O ctober 7, 1571.
T he C hristian allies had am assed a form idable fleet in the sum m er
of 1571 for the relief of Fam agusta. Profiting from the experience of the
previous year when a sim ilar fleet had accom plished nothing because of dis
sension am ong the com m anders, the allies placed this fleet under the suprem e
com m and of D on John of A ustria, the natural son of the late E m peror
C harles V. D on John had at his disposal a total of 200 to 210 galleys, m ostly
V enetian and Spanish, together with 6 V enetian galleasses or supergalleys.
This arm ad a was at anchor off one of the Ionian Islands when news arrived
early in O ctober th at F am agusta had fallen tw o m onths earlier. Some cap
tains now urged retreat, but the m ajority, D on John am ong them , m aintained
th at a defeat of the T urkish fleet would com pensate to som e extent for the
loss of C yprus even though it w ould not recover the island. A ccordingly, the
allied fleet crossed to L ep an to at the entrance of the G ulf of C orinth where
the m ain T urkish fleet was reported to be gathered.
M eanw hile the T urks on their p a rt w ere also divided on the advisa
bility of engaging in battle. T he top com m ander, Ali Pasha, was a young m an
with little naval experience. T he veteran corsair, U luch Ali, was the second
in com m and, and a certain Perted Pasha com m anded the troops. B oth Uluch
and Perted opposed an im m ediate battle on the ground th at their m en were
inadequately trained. But Ali was able to show the sultans definite orders to
fight and thus silenced the opposition. O n O ctober 7 the two fleets m et just
inside the entrance of the G ulf of L epanto. T he T urkish galleys were de
cidedly superior in num bers, approxim ately 270 as against the slightly m ore
th an 2 00 und er D on John. B ut the C hristian vessels were larger and carried
m ore soldiers, nearly 2 0 ,0 0 0 in contrast to the 16,000 T urks. F urtherm ore,
the C hristian soldiers w ore m ore arm or and carried m ore firearm s than their

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 15661699


opponents. M any of the latter had only bows and arrows and wore no arm or
w hatsoever.
This Christian superiority in soldiers proved decisive, for the L epanto
battle was essentially a land battle on the w ater. T he two fleets, draw n up in
parallel lines, m et in head-on collision. They becam e inextricably mixed,
with several galleys frequently locked together and the soldiers battling to
the finish on the decks. T he melee w ent on for about three hours before the
Turkish center and right wing began to give way. U luch, in com m and of the
Turkish left wing, succeeded in outm aneuvering the opposing C hristian gal
leys, several of which he cut off and captured. W hen he becam e aware th at
the m ain O ttom an fleet was being defeated, he m ade a dash with forty of his
galleys and succeeded in breaking through. These were the only Turkish
ships th at escaped. T he rem ainder were sunk, driven ashore, or captured. In
contrast, the allies lost only fifteen vessels. T he casualties were approxim ately
nine thousand C hristians and thirty thousand T urks. It was an overw helm ing
defeat for the O ttom an Em pire and the whole of C hristendom received the
news with trem endous enthusiasm and religious fervor.
W ith the T urkish high-seas fleet annihilated, it rem ained to be seen
how the victors would exploit their trium ph the following year. V arious pos
sibilities presented themselves an expedition to recover C yprus, a blow
against the corsair nests in N orth A frica, or even an attem pt at the D ard a
nelles, where the T urks were reported to be hastily rebuilding the entrance
forts. The problem was to find a project agreeable to all the allies. This
proved impossible. T he V enetians were interested only in strengthening their
position in the Levant. But the Spaniards did not wish to jeopardize their
naval forces so far from hom e, especially since w ar with F rance was always
possible. They preferred, instead, to strike against the N orth A frican pirates
who were a constant scourge in the w estern M editerranean. Finally, the death
of Pope Pius V in M ay, 1572, deprived the allies of their only sincere and
disinterested m em ber and ended the possibility of resolute and effective
united action.
D on John did bring the m ain Spanish fleet to C orfu, where the V ene
tians were waiting. B ut he did not arrive until Septem ber, 1572. A nd when
the com bined force set out to look for the T urks it received an unpleasant
surprise. T he T urks were waiting with a fleet fully as pow erful as th at which
they had lost at L epanto. T hanks to the energy and organizational ability of
G ran d V izir Sokolli (S okolovich), no less than one hundred and sixty gal
leys and eight galleasses had been built during the preceding w inter. Uluch,
the new captain p asha of the O ttom an fleet, decided not to risk battle with
the C hristians. T he m ost serious loss suffered at L epanto had been the
skilled m ariners, w ho w ere m ore difficult to replace th an the lost galleys.
Uluch now discovered th a t his crews h ad little experience in navigation or in
w arfare. A ccordingly, he set out for the strongly fortified h arbor of M odon
on the west coast of G reece. W hen the allied fleet under D on Jo h n appeared
before the harbor, U luch refused to venture out. D on Jo h n landed soldiers


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

in o rd er to take M odon from the rear, but they were repulsed by strong
T urkish reinforcem ents from the interior. By this time O ctober had come,
and with it the danger of storm s. D on Jo h n decided to end the expedition
and retu rn to w inter quarters. U luch likewise returned to C onstantinople and
the operations were over for the year. T he tardiness of King Philip together
with the unexpected appearance of a new O ttom an fleet had prevented the
allies from exploiting their victory at L epanto.
T he abortive 1572 expedition proved to be the last com m on effort of
the C hristian league. It was apparent to the V enetians by this time th at the
recovery of Cyprus was m ost unlikely. F u rtherm ore, the w ar with Turkey
had disrupted the L evantine trade and precipitated a serious econom ic crisis.
These considerations led the V enetians to decide in favor of peace. Sokollis
term s were severe, for the shrew d B osnian knew th at he had the whip hand.
O n M arch 7, 1573, the V enetians signed a treaty in which they form ally
ceded C yprus and also paid an indem nity of three hundred thousand ducats.
T he term s could not have been worse if the battle of L epanto had
never been fought. This indicates th at despite the rejoicing of the C hristian
w orld the battle was not decisive in the strategic sense. It did not alter the
balance of pow er in the M editerranean. By signing the peace treaty V enice
tacitly accepted O ttom an naval suprem acy in the eastern M editerranean.
Don Jo h n continued the w ar in the w estern p a rt of the sea. In 1573 he cap
tured T unis but the following year the T urks recovered the base. F rom then
on, naval operations were spasm odic and indecisive, consisting m ostly of
small-scale raids by each side. T he reason was th a t both the Spaniards and
the T urks now had m ore pressing problem s elsewhere the Spaniards in the
A tlantic and the N orth Sea and the T urks along the Persian frontier.
D uring these years P ersia was seriously w eakened by incom petent
rulers and by continual attacks from the Uzbeks to the east. T he T urks seized
the opportunity to launch an invasion from the west in 1578. T hey overran
several provinces and retained them despite persistent Persian efforts. Finally,
in 1590, they forced the Persians to accept a treaty ceding Georgia, A zer
baijan, and Shirwan. Thus the T urks extended their frontiers to the Caucasus
M ountains and the C aspian Sea.
W ith these trium phs the O ttom an E m pire reached its greatest extent.
The island of Cyprus and the Persian provinces proved to be, with two ex
ceptions, the last acquisitions of the T urks. T he exceptions were the island
of C rete and the province of Podolia, which were won from V enice and P o
land in 1668 and 1676, respectively. B ut by th at time the em pire was being
buffeted from all sides and was about to lose vast territories north of the
D anube. W e m ay conclude th a t the period from the death of Suleim an in
1566 to the P ersian treaty of 1590 represents the crest of the wave of O tto
m an expansion. In the following years the em pire declined rapidly, and it
continued to do so, with the exception of the short reign of M urad IV, until
the accession of the great Kiuprili dynasty of grand vizirs in 1656.

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699


The predom inance of the harem in the late sixteenth century was
both a sym ptom and a cause of the em pires decline. Selim 11, despite his
vices and indolence, h ad not been altogether a puppet or a nonentity. B ut his
son and successor, M urad III (1 5 7 4 -1 5 9 5 ), devoted himself exclusively to
the voluptuous life of the harem . H e distinguished himself only by the num
ber of his children, one hundred and three in all, of which forty-seven sur
vived him. Since tw enty of these were males, his successor, M oham m ed III
( 1 5 9 5 -1 6 0 3 ), began his reign by slaughtering his nineteen brothers. T he
next sultan, A hm ed I (1 6 0 3 -1 6 1 7 ) left no sons of age and was succeeded
by his lunatic b rother M ustafa. A fter a few m onths M ustafa was deposed in
favor of O sm an II ( 1 6 1 8 -1 6 2 2 ). T he O ttom an traveler and chronicler,
Evliya, notes in his journal th at this unfortunate ruler was rem oved by a
rebellion of the Janissaries, and put to death in the Seven Tow ers, by the
com pression of the testicles; a m ode of execution reserved by custom to the
O ttom an E m p ero rs. 2 T he lunatic M ustafa was then reinstated on the throne
for a fifteen-m onth period, probably the w orst reign in O ttom an history. O ut
of this m orass of degeneracy there now em erged unexpectedly and alm ost
m iraculously a ruler as forceful and capable as the early sultans. M urad IV
(1 6 2 3 -1 6 4 0 ) put an end to the anarchy and dem oralization of the preceding
years and inaugurated an exciting though short-lived period of recovery.
T he reigns of the puppet rulers betw een Selim II and M urad IV
m ight not have been so disastrous if capable grand vizirs had been entrusted
with the adm inistration of the em pire. B ut Sokolli (Sokolovich) unfortunately
had been assassinated in 1578 and from then on the real rulers w ere harem
favorites and self-seeking courtiers. O utstanding am ong these was Sultana
Batfo, a V enetian noblew om an who had been captured by corsairs and sold
to the harem of M urad III. She proved to be as clever and am bitious as she
was beautiful. F o r three decades she dom inated one ruler after another. A fter
she lost her influence oth er favorites took h er place. A lthough less fam ous,
they played a sim ilar role in the affairs of the em pire. It was these wom en,
together with their collaborators in the palace, who determ ined high policy,
m ade and unm ade grand vizirs, profited from the sale of offices, and fom ented
janissary revolts w hen it suited their interests. Such was the state of the em
pire w hen it faced renew ed w ar on the D anube and aggression in the east by
a revived Persia.
T he D anubian basin h ad been relatively peaceful since the great in
vasions of Suleim an the M agnificent. B ut tow ard the end of the sixteenth
century new factors upset the balance in th a t region and plunged it once
m ore into a series of wars. T he settlem ent in the various D anubian countries
following Suleim ans conquests m ay be sum m arized as follows: H ungary was
ruled directly by the T urks with the exception of a sm all strip in the north


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

and west, which was left to the H apsburgs; T ransylvania was governed by the
Z apolya princes, who recognized T urkish suzerainty; and the D anubian Prin
cipalities of M oldavia and W allachia were under native R um anian princes
nom inally elected by the nobility but actually selected by the dom inant cliques
in C onstantinople.
This settlem ent was disturbed by the declining influence of the two
great em pires, the O ttom an and the H apsburg. We have noted the type of
rulers th a t succeeded Suleim an in C onstantinople. Likewise in V ienna we find
in place of C harles V the weak and ineffectual R udolf II (1 5 7 6 -1 6 1 1 ). This
ruler was an unsociable eccentric and an uncom prom ising C atholic. In con
trast to his tolerant father, M axim ilian II, he strove earnestly to re-Catholicize
the areas lost to Protestantism . This policy involved him in continued
wrangles with the Protestants of Bohem ia and G erm any. It also w eakened his
influence in H ungary and T ransylvania, where m any of the num erous C al
vinists and L utherans preferred the tolerant governm ent of the pasha of B uda
to the bigotry and persecution of the Jesuit-ridden court of Vienna.
T he decline of H apsburg and O ttom an influence in the D anubian
basin created a fluid situation which allowed local leaders to assert them
selves and to extend their authority. In T ransylvania, for exam ple, the Za
polya princes had been, on the whole, docile subjects of the sultan. But this
dynasty died out in 1570 and its place was taken by the B athory princes,
w ho showed m uch m ore independence. Stephen B athory was even elected
king of P oland and conducted a successful w ar against Ivan the T errible of
Russia. H e was preparing far-reaching plans for a C entral E uropean coali
tion against the Turks when he died suddenly in 1586. His successor on the
T ransylvanian throne, Sigismund Bathory (1 5 8 1 -1 6 0 2 ) was equally hostile
to the T urks and collaborated with E m peror R udolf against them. A nd in
W allachia M ichael the B rave was elected prince in 1593. This intrepid ruler
started out by m assacring the im perial tax collectors who were ruining the
principality with their extortions. T hen he routed the Turkish forces sent
against him and even m ade a w inter raid across the D anube as far south as
A drianople.
This was the situation in the D anubian lands when A ustria and T u r
key drifted to w ar in 1593. During the two previous years both sides had car
ried on frontier raids. T hese culm inated in the crushing defeat of the Turkish
governor of Bosnia, who was killed together with alm ost all his m en during
an expedition into C roatia in June, 1593. Im m ediately full-scale fighting be
gan and a num ber of b order fortresses changed hands by the end of the year.
In 1594 the Turks took to the field with a large arm y of one hundred thou
sand men. B ut the result was disappointing, only one city of any im portance
falling to the invaders. T he old days, w hen a single cam paign won a kingdom,
obviously were over.
This fact encouraged D anubian rulers to form anti-O ttom an coali
tions. In 1595 Sigismund Bathory concluded with E m peror Rudolf an offen
sive and defensive alliance aim ed at C onstantinople. In the same year Michael

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699


of W allachia accepted Sigismunds suzerainty in return fo r aid against the

Turks, who were still seeking to regain the principality. T he aid actually m a
terialized and M ichael was able in 1595 to cross the D anube once more and
to sack towns in Bulgaria. A t the sam e tim e the com bined H apsburg-T ransylvanian arm ies were winning im portant victories in Hungary.
This m arked a low point in O ttom an fortunes. The prospect ap
peared so dark th at the grand vizir insisted that the new sultan, M oham m ed
III, should take the field in person during the 1596 cam paign. M oham m ed
did so, not too willingly, and after m uch m aneuvering a decisive tw o-day b at
tle was fought at K erestes in northern H ungary. A t first the allied forces were
successful all along the line. M oham m ed was ready to llee and his staff barely
restrained him from doing so. At the last m om ent the tide was reversed by the
cupidity of the C hristian soldiers. H aving burst into the sultans cam p, they
broke ranks and scram bled around for plunder. A t this point a large body of
Turkish irregular cavalry which had been held in reserve bore down upon
the disorganized enem y with irresistible force, carrying everything before
them. T housands of G erm ans and H ungarians fell in the rout and ninetyseven guns were abandoned on the field.
The T urkish victory was decisive in a negative sense. If the T urks had
not won, all the lands north of the D anube would have fallen to the allies.
But from the positive viewpoint the battle was of little significance. T he T urks
were unable to exploit their advantage. Indeed, a clear indication of O ttom an
military decline is the fact th at the great victory at Kerestes was followed by
a series of defeats rather than territorial gains. By 1598 the H apsburg gen
erals reached Buda and laid siege to the capital. Only the approach of winter
saved it from capitulation.
T he w ar dragged on a few m ore years w ithout decisive results. The
T urks were distracted by a serious rebellion in Asia M inor and by an even
m ore serious invasion from Persia. E m peror Rudolf also had his troubles.
His attem pt to reim pose C atholicism by force drove the T ransylvanian no
bles back into the T urkish fold. In 1599 they deposed the pro-H apsburg
Sigismund and elected in his place a succession of princes who accepted
Turkish suzerainty and rem ained neutral in the war. T hus both the A ustrians
and the T urks were ready to end hostilities, and in N ovem ber, 1606, they
signed the Peace of Sitva-Torok. This treaty is significant for its form rather
th an its content. T he frontiers rem ained virtually unchanged, and T ransyl
vania was recognized once m ore as an O ttom an dependency. B ut the H aps
burgs no longer were required to pay tribute to C onstantinople for the p art
of H ungary under their control. N or were they com pelled to accept the ig
nom inious language of previous treaties w hich had been phrased as conces
sions granted to inferior princes. F o r the first tim e the O ttom an governm ent
negotiated with a C hristian state a treaty draw n up as a settlem ent on equal
term s betw een two sovereign powers.
Considering briefly O ttom an-Persian relations at this time, it should
be noted first that C hristian E urope owes a considerable debt to Persia for


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

m aintaining a second front against the O ttom an E m pire and preventing it

from turning full force upon the W est. In this respect Persia played a role
sim ilar to th at of R ussia against G erm any during the tw o world wars.
In the late sixteenth century, w hen the O ttom an E m pire was declin
ing, P ersia experienced a spectacular though short-lived revival under one of
its greatest rulers, A bbas the G reat. W hen he cam e to the throne in 1587 he
found the country in a deplorable state. T ribal chiefs were independent of the
central governm ent while the T urks were attacking from the west and the
U zbeks from the east. A bbas first concluded in 1590 an unfavorable peace
with the T urks. H e ceded various territories to them in order to be free to
deal w ith the Uzbeks. T hen he defeated the latter so decisively th a t Persia was
freed of their depredations for m any years to come.
A bbas turned next to dom estic reorganization. He forced the unruly
tribes to accept his authority and ruthlessly exterm inated banditry. H e started
building projects throughout the country, especially roads and bridges. He
organized the first infantry regim ents to supplem ent the tribal cavalry which
hitherto h ad been the m ainstay of P ersian arm ies. In recruiting his infantry
m en A bbas im itated the O ttom an janissaries by using C hristian G eorgians
and A rm enians converted to Islam . In his m ilitary reform s A bbas had the
assistance of two Englishm en, A nthony and R obert Sherley. These fabulous
adventurers arrived in P ersia in 1598 with twenty-six followers. A bbas em
ployed them to organize regim ents of infantry and batteries of artillery. He
also sent the brothers on three diplom atic missions to W estern E urope with
instructions to obtain allies for a w ar against the T urks. T heir adventures in
the various E uropean capitals attracted m uch attention at the tim e but cam e
to no fruitful conclusion. T he W estern diplom ats were unwilling to com m it
them selves, some for fear of jeopardizing the profitable L evantine trade and
others because they h ad m ore pressing problem s closer to home.
D espite the failure to find allies, A bbas began his long-planned w ar
against the T urks in 1602. T he tim e was well chosen. T he O ttom an armies
w ere involved in H ungary, and the A natolian rebellion was still alive. Taking
advantage of this situation A bbas fell upon the Turkish flank in A rm enia and
within a year won back all the territories he had ceded in 1590. H ostilities
ceased in 1612 b u t w ere renew ed in 1616. Tw o years later the T urks ac
cepted a peace settlem ent by which they surrendered A zerbaijan and Georgia.

m u ra d

iv : 1623-1640

M eanw hile the O ttom an E m pire was going headlong to ruin. T he

intrigues and corruption at the court and the recurring m utinies of the janis
saries had produced a veritable state of anarchy. W e have an authoritative
account of this deplorable situation in the reports of the British am bassador,
Sir T hom as Roe. H e arrived in C onstantinople in 1622 with instructions to
obtain protection for B ritish shipping from the depredations of the N orth
A frican corsairs. He had little success in this m atter. O ttom an officials prom

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699


ised redress but their instructions were sim ply ignored in T unis and Algeria.
Sir T hom as repeatedly stressed in his reports the helplessness of the central
governm ent and the m anifold sym ptom s of decay.
. . . this mighty m onarchy hath no other walls to defend it, but the uncivill dissentions of Christian princes. It never had but two pillars of any strength,
the Janizaries and the gallies: These [latter] are rotten and decayed, and w hat
are left, are unfitt for service, and the few fitt, w ithout m unition, and men to
serve in them : T he other [the janissaries] are corrupted from their antient disci
pline and institution, and have shaken off that reverence to their em perors . . . .
and now they are neither souldiers, nor subjects. . . . they dem and in troopes, at
this court, all offices of gayne, to be stew ards to the revenues of churches, w hich
are great; to take the farm es of customes, and there com m it those outrages that
are insufferable. T he viziers dare deny them nothing: they drink in the streetes
w ithout prohibition, contrary to their laws; and stand in com panyes in the open
day, and exact money w ithout any punishm ent. . . . C om playne no m an dares;
or if he doe, to no purpose; the vizier answercth, T hat he cannot meddle w ith
them ; they have m urthered their ow ne king, and all the bassaes [pashas]. . . ,3

Sir T hom as sent this report in 1622. T he following year M urad IV

cam e to the throne. F o r the first tim e in half a century the em pire had a sultan
with sufficient intelligence and will pow er to end this ruinous anarchy. Since
M urad was only eleven at the time of his accession, the janissaries were able
to continue their seditious activities for another nine years. D uring this period
they com pelled no less than seven grand vizirs to resign from office. By 1632
M urad felt strong enough to assert his prerogatives. He proceeded to do so
with a ruthlessness th at is said to have cost the lives of one hundred thousand
of his subjects. T he bloodletting proved effective. D uring the rem aining eight
years of his reign the em pire experienced a revival that was soon felt both at
home and abroad.
T he T urkish traveler Evliya knew M urad intim ately, having served
under him as a page. T he picture he has left of his hero is of a m an strikingly
rem iniscent of T sar P eter the G reat the sam e magnificent physique, the
same will pow er and ruthlessness, and the same success in restoring order at
hom e and winning victories abroad.
In short, Sultan M urad was a m an who had the nature of a Dervish, but
he was brave and intelligent. H is fingers were thick, but well proportioned, and
the strongest wrestler could not open his closed fist. H e generally dressed in blue
coloured silk, and liked to ride very fast. N either the O ttom an nor any other
dynasty of M oslem princes ever produced a prince so athletic, so well-made, so
despotic, so m uch feared by his enemies, or so dignified as Sultan M urad. Though
so cruel and bloodthirsty, he conversed with the rich and the poor w ithout any
m ediator, m ade his rounds in disguise night and day to be inform ed of the state
of the poor, and to ascertain the price of provisions, for w hich purpose he fre
quently w ent into cookshops and dined incognito. N o m onarch, how ever was
guilty of so many violent deeds. On the m arch to Baghdad, when he left Caesarea,
a wild goat was started in the m ountains of Develi K ara H isar. T he em peror im


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

mediately gave chase, struck it w ith his spear, followed it up am ongst the rocks,
and divided his prey am ongst his vizirs. T he whole arm y was surprised to see him
dism ount and climb up the craggy m ountain in pursuit of his gam e.4

M u rad s interests were not lim ited to sports and to war. Evliya adds
th at he was also a good p o et, th at he surrounded himself with dancers,
m usicians, poets, and divines, and that he m et regularly with his m inisters to
consider m atters of state. In such a m anner, concludes Evliya, did he
w atch over the O ttom an states, th at not even a bird could fly over them
w ithout his know ledge. 5
M u rad s chief aim was to reconquer the territories lost to the P er
sians. In preparing for w ar he pitilessly suppressed insubordination in the
arm ed forces and obtained the necessary funds by drastic financial m easures,
including the confiscation of large fortunes. In contrast to his predecessors,
M u rad personally led his arm ies in two cam paigns against the Persians. The
latter as usual refused to fight pitched battles, so th at the w ar consisted of a
series of sieges. So long as A bbas was alive the Persians were able to hold
their own. B ut the great shah died in 1629 and from then on M urad steadily
gained the upper hand. Finally, in 1638, the Persians accepted a peace settle
m ent providing for the cession of B aghdad and the surrounding territory to
the T urks. Eighty years were to pass before another m ajor war was fought
betw een these traditional rivals.
W hen M urad returned to C onstantinople he was greeted, according
to Evliya, with a splendour and m agnificence which no tongue can describe.
Enthusiastic m ultitudes crow ded the streets shouting, T he blessing of G od
be upon thee O co n queror! M urad was a fitting hero for such a welcome.
T he em peror looked with dignity on both sides of him, like a lion who had
seized his prey, and saluted the people as he went on, followed by three thou
sand pages clad in arm our. T he people shouted G od be praised! as he passed
and threw them selves on their faces to the ground. 0
H ere was the ideal T urkish w ar lord, the idol o f.a n adoring people,
and the leader of an arm y that had recovered its ancient discipline and prow
ess. W estern diplom ats m ust have w ondered anxiously where the conqueror
would strike next. In fact, he openly voiced his am bition to crush his W estern
neighbors as he had the Persians. F urtherm ore, he began a com plete over
hauling of the whole m ilitary system. He held a census of the m iltary fiefs and
attem pted to elim inate the abuses th at h ad underm ined the feudal forces. H e
abolished the child-tribute and reduced the janissary corps with the apparent
aim of ultim ately replacing it with a m odern arm y of the W estern type. B ut
before these m easures could take effect, M urad died in 1640, a victim of
prodigiously hard w ork and equally h ard drinking.

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699

D E C L IN E c o n t i n u e s :


1 6 4 0 -1 6 5 6

U nder M u ra d s successor, Ibrahim I (1 6 4 0 -1 6 4 8 ), the old disorder

and corruption im m ediately returned. This points up a basic difference b e
tween M urad and Peter the G reat. As individuals the two men were ex trao r
dinarily alike. But as rulers, the tsar represented a turning point in the history
of his country, w hereas the sultan was a m ere flash in the pan. An obvious
reason for this difference is th at P eter ruled for thirty-six years and M urad,
in effect, for eight. If the latter had lived another two or three decades, O tto
m an history in the seventeenth century undoubtedly would have been sub
stantially different. O n the other hand, there is little doubt that M urad never
would have effected such far-reaching reform s as did Peter. O ne reason is th at
the opposition to W esternization was m uch stronger in T urkey than in Russia.
A n other is th at the sultan was not a confirm ed W esterner, as was the tsar.
M urad was ready to im itate W estern arm ies but Peter was determ ined th at
his people should also m aster W estern science and technology. M urad w alked
in disguise through the streets of his capital to apprehend law breakers, whereas
Peter journeyed through W estern E urope in order to learn w hat was un
known in his country. M ost revealing, perhaps, is the spectacle of M urads
favorite, Evliya, returning from a trip through N orthw estern E urope filled
with contem pt for the strange custom s and m anners of the C hristian infidels.
If anyone had suggested to him that he m.ight have learned som ething bene
ficial in the W estern lands he would have been com pletely dum foundcd and
undoubtedly would have rejected the notion as fantastic and sacrilegious. In
contrast, half a century later P eter was forcing thousands of his subjects to
go to school in the W est and inviting W estern teachers and craftsm en to
W hatever m ight have been the outcom e had M urad lived longer, the
fact rem ains th at when Ibrahim becam e the sultan in 1648 the old evils im
m ediately returned. Evliya, who w itnessed the events of these years, relates
that Ibrahim fell into the hands of all the favourites and associates of the
harem , the dwarfs, the mutes, the eunuchs, the women. . . . and th at together
they threw everything into confusion. 7
D espite this decadence, Ibrahim involved the em pire in a long and
exhausting w ar with Venice. T he im m ediate occasion was the capture of a
T urkish galleon by M altese corsairs. A m ong the captives was one of Ib ra
him s wives and her young son. Ibrah im s first reaction was to send a fleet
against M alta but his advisers wisely rem inded him of Suleim ans failure to
take th at stronghold. T hey persuaded him instead to attack the m ore vulner
able island of Crete, at th at tim e a V enetian possession. T he fact th at the cor
sairs had stopped at certain C retan h arbors on the way hom e provided a
convenient pretext fo r the assault. A n expedition of approxim ately one h u n
dred vessels and fifty thousand m en left C onstantinople in A pril, 1645. W ith
the help of the local G reek population, which detested V enetian rule, the
T.urks were able by A ugust to capture the port of C anea at the w estern end


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

of the island. T he following year they took R etim o near the center of the
n orthern coast, and in 1648 they began the m em orable siege of the capital,
C andia.
T he siege dragged on a full twenty-five years. T he reason for this u n
conscionably long ordeal was the inability of the T urks to protect their supply
lines. A technological revolution had occurred in naval w arfare since the days
of L epanto. T h a t battle is m em orable in naval history as the last m ajor en
gagem ent fought by galleys. These vessels were encum bered with oars,
benches, and row ers, and were too frail to carry heavy guns or to w ithstand
their fire. In fact, they were essentially sim ilar to the trirem es and drom ons
of ancient times. Both in equipm ent and in tactics the battle of L epanto had
been a repetition of the battle of A ctium sixteen centuries earlier. B ut now in
the seventeenth century the V enetians began to use sail-propelled w arships
together w ith the traditional galleys. They had em ployed sailing-ships long
before this date but only for com m erce. In applying the sail to naval w arfare
the V enetians were following the exam ple of the N o rthern E uropeans, who
h ad m ade the change earlier because of the im practicability of the galley in
the storm y A tlantic.
T he sail w arship or galleon was an infinitely m ore efficient fighting
m achine than the galley. It was larger and m ore seaw orthy; it carried heavy
arm am ents on all sides; and it could undertake long voyages free from the
lim itations im posed by hum an muscles. Since the T urks were very slow in
adopting the new w arship, the V enetians usually had the advantage in the
naval battles th at accom panied the C retan cam paign. The clim ax cam e in the
years 1654 to 1656, when the V enetians destroyed an O ttom an fleet in
the D ardanelles, blockaded the Straits, and captured the nearby islands of
L em nos and Tenedos.
M eanw hile anarchy prevailed within the em pire. T he janissaries had
deposed Ibrahim in 1648 and replaced him with his ten-year-old son, M o
ham m ed IV . T he governm ent naturally rem ained in the hands of the harem .
B ut the harem was divided by the struggle betw een two strong wom en, the
m others of the deposed ruler and of the new sultan. B oth women had their
supporters am ong the janissaries and the spahis, w ith the result th at there
w ere frequent disorders in the capital. R ycaut relates th a t all was in a horrid
and affrighting C onfusion . . . and the whole City laid open to be pillaged and
sacked by the licentiousness of an unbridled Souldiery. . .
So desperate was
the situation th at the ruling oligarchy decided to accept the restraints of a
strong hand in order to save the em pire from com plete destruction. U nder
these circum stances, R ycaut inform s us, they
called for the Pasha of Damascus to receive the Dignity of the Great Vizier; for
he being a person of eighty Years of Age, and of long Experience in Affairs,
having managed the most weighty Charges of the Empire, was looked on by all
as the most proper Person to compose and heal those great Distempers in the
State; and this was that famous Kuperlu. . . .s

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699


In this m anner the great K iuprili fam ily m ade its entrance on the
stage th at it was to dom inate for a full half-century.

k iu p r ili v iz irs :

1 6 5 6 -1 6 7 6

M oham m ed K iuprili, the founder of the rem arkable dynasty of m in

isters, cam e from hum ble A lbanian stock. His grandfather had m igrated to
Kiupril, a small town in A sia M inor, whence the family took its nam e. M o
ham m ed began his career as a kitchen boy. H e rose to be a cook, stew ard to
the grand vizir, grand falconer, and then governor successively of D am ascus,
Tripoli, and Jerusalem . W hen he was offered the grand vizirate he refused to
accept the post save under certain conditions: th at his m easures should be
ratified w ithout discussion or delay, and th at he should have a free hand in
the distribution of offices and honors. T hese conditions having been accepted,
M oham m ed entered upon the w ork of his high office.
T he task he faced was staggering. C o u rt intrigue and m ilitary insub
ordination reigned suprem e in the capital at a tim e when the V enetians were
in possession of the islands com m anding the entrance to the Straits. M oham
m ed prom ptly proceeded to use his pow ers with the utm ost severity. N o de
linquency, past or present, escaped his attention. H e planted his spies in every
province of the em pire and ruthlessly rooted out the corrupt and the incom
petent. T he m ore fortunate were dism issed from office. T he rem ainder were
sum m arily executed. It is said th at during his five years of office thirty-six
thousand persons were p u t to death o n his com m and. Since M oham m ed had
acquired a reputation for mildness and hum anity as a governor, it may be
assum ed that this bloodletting was n o t w ithout justification o r purpose.
T he beneficent results speedily becam e apparent throughout the em
pire. C orruption and injustice were stayed. D iscipline was restored in the
arm y and the naval strength of the em pire revived. T he V enetians were driven
from the Lem nos and T enedos islands, and revolts in Transylvania and A sia
M inor were quelled. O ttom an authority was asserted even on the distant D on
and D nieper rivers, where new fortresses w ere built.
M oham m ed died in 1661 and was succeeded by his son A hm ed. T he
new grand vizir proved to be one of the greatest of O ttom an statesm en, pos
sessing the n atu ral abilities of his fath er together with an excellent education
and a thorough adm inistrative training. A hm ed cam e to office the sam e year
in which Louis X IV assum ed the reins of governm ent in France. T o W estern
eyes the Sun K ing appears as the arbiter of his age. In actual fact, the O tto
m an m inister played a role fully as decisive and significant. His policies di
rected the course of events in A ustria, R ussia, Poland, and the M editerranean.
In foreign affairs A hm ed wished to continue his fathers policy of
m aintaining peace on the land frontier in o rd er to press the C retan w ar
against Venice. He was diverted from this course by the aggressiveness of
the A ustrians, who had recovered from the effects of the T hirty Y ears W ar
and resum ed their raids across the frontier. Full-scale w ar broke out in 1663


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

over the question of T ransylvania. T he local prince, G eorge R akoczy, as

pired to m ake him self independent of C onstantinople and attem pted to win
the support of the M oldavian and W allachian princes. A hm ed prom ptly de
posed R akoczy and appointed in his place the com pliant Prince Michael
ApaiTy. W hen the H apsburg em peror, L eopold I, refused to recognize the
new ruler, A hm ed declared w ar and m arched north from Belgrade at the
head of an arm y of a hundred and tw enty thousand men. The A ustrians were
not p repared to m eet such a force in pitched battle and w ithdrew behind their
line of frontier fortresses. A fter capturing the im portant stronghold of N euhausel and several neighboring positions, A hm ed retired to w inter quarters
to prepare for m ore decisive action in the following year.
T he spectacle of a T urkish arm y, com parable to that of Suleiman the
M agnificent, advancing w estw ard once m ore, after the interval of a century,
m ade a profound im pression in E urope. It aroused a faint echo of the old
crusading ardor. H ungarian m alcontents rallied to E m peror L eopolds b an
ner, stim ulated, no doubt, by the ravages of the T a ta r horsem en. T he Im
perial D iet voted a levy of m oney and troops, and even Louis X IV provided a
contingent of four thousand men to the com m on cause. This outside aid en
couraged the H apsburg com m ander, C ount M ontecuculi, to take the initiative.
He recovered some of the forts lost the previous year and then entrenched
him self behind the river R aab. O n A ugust 1, 1664, the two arm ies met near
the convent of St. G o tth ard , which gave its nam e to the m em orable battle
th at ensued. D espite a substantial num erical superiority the T urks were de
cisively defeated. They fought with their usual courage and tenacity, but their
arm s and tactics were those of Suleim ans day. T heir artillery was inferior to
th at of their opponents and they still used the scim itar at a tim e when the
pike h ad becom e the suprem e infantry w eapon. T he battle of St. G otthard is
significant as evidence of the passing of T urkish m ilitary superiority and as
augury of the great A ustrian victories a few decades later.
T en days after their victory the A ustrians surprised E urope by sign
ing the unfavorable T reaty of V asvar. T hey had lost too heavily at St. G ott
h ard to undertake the arduous task of clearing the T urks out of H ungary.
T he A ustrians also were suspicious of F rench designs in the W est and dared
not com m it themselves further in the east. T he outbreak of the W ar of D evo
lution three years later proved their suspicions justified. These considerations
explain the willingness of the A ustrians to pay a financial indem nity, to sur
render several frontier fortresses and districts, and to recognize Apaffy as the
prince of T ransylvania. A lthough defeated in battle, A hm ed had w on the
peace and had added to the em pire of the sultan.
T he grand vizir now tu rn ed his attention to Crete, where the w ar had
dragged on w ithout issue since 1645. H e assum ed personal com m and of the
siege of C andia and pressed it relentlessly for three years. D espite the gal
lantry of the V enetian general, Francesco M orosini, and the assistance of a
F ren ch fleet and of volunteers from all countries, the city was forced to capit
ulate in Septem ber, 1669. In the following peace treaty the Venetians sur

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699


rendered the entire island, with the exception of three small ports which they
retained for com m ercial purposes.

T he scene now shifts to the north ern extrem ity of the em pire where
the wild no m ans land know n as the U kraine was emerging from obscurity as
the bloody battleground of three contending pow ers T urkey, Russia, and
Poland. This region was inhabited by two w arlike and unruly frontier peo
ples, the O rthodox C ossacks and the M oslem T atars. T he latter controlled
the entire C rim ean Peninsula, together with the treeless steppes along the
Black Sea shore from B essarabia in the west to Circassia in the east. These
C rim ean T atars, as they were collectively know n, cam e under O ttom an su
zerainty in the fifteenth century. T he arrangem ent was m utually satisfactory
and continued to the R ussian conquest in the late eighteenth century. T he
T atars could count on m ilitary aid from C onstantinople when needed. In re
turn they provided the Turkish arm ies with hordes of wild horsem en and also
kept the im perial slave m arkets well stocked with the thousands of unfortu
nate victims th at they rounded up during their incessant raids into Russia and
T he Cossacks were the C hristian counterparts of the T atars. T hey
resem bled the A m erican frontiersm en in that they were a sociological rather
than an ethnic group. They hailed originally from Russia and Poland, whence
they lied southw ard to the frontier lands to escape the bonds of serfdom that
were being im posed upon the peasantry from the sixteenth century onward.
By the early seventeenth century they had organized them selves into three
separate Cossack hosts, on the D on, U ral, and D nieper rivers. T he first two
had come mostly from Russian lands and recognized in a vague and nom inal
fashion the suzerainty of the M uscovite tsar. T he D nieper C ossacks, having
originated from Polish territories, accepted a corresponding connection with
the king of Poland. All three hosts at this tim e were in fact independent.
They fought, pillaged, and negotiated when and as they pleased, particularly
with the Crim ean T atars and the T urks who controlled the river m ouths to
the south.
T he m ain issue in the m id-seventeenth century was the Polish-R ussian struggle for the control of the C ossack-occupied U kraine. T he conflict
began in 1648 with the great C ossack revolt against the Poles, who had at
tem pted to extend serfdom to the U kraine. F o r six years the Cossacks fought
under their fam ous hetm an, B ogdan K hm elnitsky. Finally they concluded an
agreem ent with T sar Alexis placing them selves under the protection of Rus
sia. Being O rthodox to a m an, the C ossacks declared for the T sar who be
longs to the E astern O rthodox F a ith , in preference to the C atholic king of
T his fateful decision increased enorm ously the potential of R ussian
pow er and m ade inevitable the Polish-R ussian W ar which im m ediately en
sued. F o r thirteen m ore years the U kraine was devastated by rival Cossack


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

bands, T a ta r raiding parties, and Polish and R ussian armies. Finally the
T reaty of A ndrussovo (1 6 6 7 ) divided the disputed land, R ussia obtaining
Kiev and the territory to the east of the D nieper, and P oland the territory to
the west.
O ne reason for this com prom ise settlem ent was the disquieting resur
gence of O ttom an activity u nder A hm ed Kiuprili. The T urks hitherto had
regarded the U kraine as a buffer zone and had refrained from direct in ter
vention. B ut the steady extension of Polish and Russian authority southw ard
now led A hm ed to counter with a thrust northw ard. H e found a useful ally
in P eter D oroshenko, a Cossack chieftain who had w on considerable follow
ing as the o pponent of both the Polish and R ussian regimes. In place of the
p artitioned U kraine created by the A ndrussovo settlem ent, D oroshenko de
m anded an autonom ous and united state. He turned to C onstantinople for
su p p o rt and was w arm ly welcom ed by A hm ed. In D ecem ber, 1668, an agree
m ent was concluded w hereby D oroshenko accepted T urkish suzerainty and
agreed to pay annual tribute; in retu rn the sultan recognized the autonom y
of the U krainian lands and of the U krainian O rthodox C hurch, and also un
dertook to provide a force of six thousand men to uphold D oroshenko against
his enem ies. This arrangem ent was perfectly natural in the light of O ttom an
adm inistrative practice. T he U kraine was to occupy a position in the im perial
fram ew ork sim ilar to th at of M oldavia, W allachia, and Transylvania.
A hm ed had tim ed his intervention in U krainian affairs perfectly. The
C retan W ar was draw ing to a close, the Poles were divided by their perennial
dynastic succession difficulties, and the R ussians were im m obilized by Stenka
R azin s form idable p easant revolt. A hm ed was fully inform ed of these devel
opm ents, both through his own agents and through D oroshenko. In A ugust,
1672, he crossed the D niester R iver at the head of a pow erful arm y com posed
of veterans of the C retan cam paign. He was joined by contingents of C rim ean
T atars and by twelve thousand of D oroshenkos Cossacks. H e quickly cap
tured the im portant Polish city, K am eniec, and com pelled the Polish king to
sign the T reaty of B uczacz (1 6 7 2 ) ceding the province of Podolia to Turkey
and recognizing the w estern U kraine as independent under O ttom an protec
tion. T he Polish D iet refused to ratify the treaty and the w ar was resum ed.
U nder the able leadership of Jo h n Sobieski, and with some R ussian assist
ance, the Poles won tw o im portant victories. B ut the superior resources of
the T urks finally prevailed and in 1676 Sobieski accepted the T reaty of Zoravno. T he T urks retained Podolia, but the w estern U kraine was divided, the
n o rth ern p art rem aining Polish and the southern passing to the Turkish
This treaty is significant in tw o respects. I t m arks the high-w ater
point of T urkish advance into E astern E urope and it also represents the be
ginning of direct T urkish-R ussian contact and conflict. Having defeated the
Poles in the w estern U kraine, the T urks now faced the Russians along the
D nieper R iver. H ostilities began alm ost at once, the precipitating factor being

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699


the refusal of the Cossacks to accept T urkish rule. E ven D oroshenko, w ho

was bitterly disappointed by the provisions of the Zoravno T reaty, turned
against his form er T urkish allies and threw in his lot with the Russians. T he
T urks had no choice but to wage w ar with R ussia in order to retain the ter
ritory they had won from the Poles.
F o r three years T urks and T atars fought Russians and Cossacks. T he
countryside along the western b ank of the low er D nieper was com pletely dev
astated and its population fled eastw ard across the river. T he inconclusive
and exhaustive character of the w ar finally inclined both sides to peace. T he
T reaty of R adzin ( 1 6 8 1 ) also know n as the B akhchisarai T reaty after the
k h a n s residence, w here it was initially concluded recognized M uscovite
authority east of the D nieper and in the Kiev enclave. It also provided th at
the T urks should w ithdraw from the southw estern U kraine which they had
w rested from the Poles, and that the R ussians should not send troops o r offi
cials into this disputed region. Instead, it was to serve as a buffer zone sep
arating the R ussian-controlled U kraine from the territory of the C rim ean
T atars. In the light of later developm ents it is notew orthy th at the treaty also
allowed R ussian subjects to trade in the C rim ea and to journey to the Holy
L and to worship.


T he T u rk s willingness to surrender their foothold in the U kraine was

p art of a grandiose plan form ulated by a new grand vizir in C onstantinople.
A hm ed K iuprili had died five years earlier and was succeeded by the sultans
son-in-law , K ara M ustafa. T he new grand vizir was ruthless, energetic, and
am bitious, but totally lacking in the sound judgm ent th at had distinguished
his predecessor. In all his actions he displayed a haughty contem pt for the
C hristian infidels which would have been understandable a century earlier
but which now had no relation to reality. His great aim was to declare w ar
on A ustria, capture V ienna, and m ake him self the viceroy of the am ple
provinces betw een the D anube and the R hine. In preparation for this rash
undertaking he accepted the unfavorable R adzin T reaty, hoping thereby to
assure the neutrality of Russia during the com ing war.
A rebellion in the H apsburg portion of H ungary provided M ustafa
with a convenient pretext for beginning hostilities. The rebels, led by C ount
E m eric Tekeli, appealed to C onstantinople for aid against E m peror Leopold.
T heir appeal was strongly supported by the F rench governm ent. Louis X IV
h a d designs on the R hineland which would be facilitated if the H apsburgs
were involved in a T urkish war. A ccordingly, the F rench am bassador in
C onstantinople gave full assurances th a t no F rench troops would participate
in the defense of V ienna. This was sufficient to cause M ustafa to reject the
H apsburg request for a renew al of the tw enty-year V asvar truce (1 6 6 4 ) th at
was about to lapse.
In the spring of 1683 M ustafa set forth from Belgrade with an arm y


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

of alm ost two hundred thousand men. T he A ustrians were poorly prepared,
having spent precious tim e bickering over the com m and of the army and
over such details as the salaries of the officers and the bread ration of the
soldiers. T he Duke of L orraine, who com m anded the H apsburg forces, had
no choice but to retreat. M ustafa m arched quickly tow ard V ienna. A panic
seized the capital. In great confusion the em peror, his court, and m any of
the w ealthier citizens fled the city. C ount Stahrem berg was left to conduct
the defense with a garrison of tw enty-tw o thousand.
The siege began on July 17. T he defenders repulsed six m ajor as
saults in as m any weeks. A t the end of that time both the besiegers and the
besieged were suffering from lack of food. T he latter were worse off, having
lost six thousand men and exhausted virtually all their supplies. A t this point
the city was saved by the arrival of the Polish arm y under King John Sobieski.
Despite the opposition of F rench diplom acy, E m peror L eopold had
concluded an anti-T urkish alliance with the Poles in M arch, 1683. N either
side was to conclude a separate peace, and provision was m ade for the ad
herence of other pow ers th a t wished to fight the Turks. A fter m uch delay
Sobieski gathered an arm y of fifty-three thousand for the relief of V ienna.
T hanks to the incom petence of M ustafa, he was able to effect a juncture with
the D uke of L orraines tw enty-seven thousand A ustrians. O n Septem ber 11
the com bined force reached M ount K ahlenberg overlooking V ienna. Between
the m ountain and the T urkish encam pm ent below were several valleys form ed
by stream s running into the D anube. M ustafa had neglected to m an these
natural ram parts and the allied arm y advanced in a great semicircle upon the
Turks. T he T a ta r irregulars and the M oldavian and W allachian auxiliaries
broke and fled, spreading confusion to the rest of the arm y. Sobieski led his
best troops against the T urkish center and carried all before him. T he janis
saries, who had been left in the trenches before the city, were now attacked
on tw o sides, by the relief arm y from the rear and by the V ienna garrison on
the front. T errible slaughter followed, and the whole of the Turkish cam p,
with im mense booty, fell to the victorious allies.
T he debris of the O ttom an arm y m ade its way to B uda. M ustafa
continued to Belgrade, w here he was put to death by order of the sultan. His
successor m ade peace overtures to E m p ero r L eopold. T he latter now had to
m ake a critical decision. Louis X IV had invaded the Spanish N etherlands
while V ienna was being besieged. H e was willing to cease hostilities if Spain
and A ustria recognized his gains. T he problem facing Leopold was w hether
he should accept a T urkish peace in order to force Louis to disgorge, or a
F rench peace in order to follow up the V ienna victory. L eopold decided in
favor of the latter, partly because of the popular clam or to deal once and
for all with Islam , and partly because a T urkish cam paign offered m uch m ore
assurance of victory th an did a French. This decision was a fateful one. It
precipitated a w ar which continued to the end of the century and which
finally freed C hristendom from the T urkish m enace and established A ustria
as the forem ost pow er of C entral E urope.

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699




Once the decision had been m ade for w ar against the T urks, atten
tion was focused on the organization of a league of C hristian powers. L eo
pold found an invaluable ally in Pope Innocent X I, who w orked tirelessly to
unite Christendom for another crusade. His exhortations, together with the
victories of the A ustrian generals who were trouncing the T urks in the upper
D anube, induced the V enetians to join the existing A ustrian-Polish alliance.
The treaty, signed in M arch, 1684, defined the territorial interests of the three
allies and called on the rest of E urope to support the great effort to drive the
T urks back to Asia. Leopold was anxious to add Russia to the Holy League,
as the anti-T urkish coalition was christened. A fter considerable diplom atic
pressure he induced the Poles (A pril, 1686) to recognize Russian rule over
Kiev and Smolensk, and in return the Russians agreed to send an army
against the Crim ea.
M eanwhile m ilitary developm ents had kept pace with the diplom atic.
The eastern allies had little success. T he R ussian assaults on the Crim ea
(1687 and 1689) proved abortive, while Sobieski failed in his attem pts to
occupy the D anubian Principalities and to capture the Kam eniec fortress
th at he had lost to the T urks in the previous war. But these cam paigns were
subsidiary. T he decisive battles were being fought and won by the A ustrians
in H ungary and by the V enetians in the Peloponnesus.
The A ustrians did not win spectacular victories during the first two
years of the war, 1684 and 1685. But they did soften the Turkish defenses
sufficiently to make possible the great successes that followed. In 1686, under
the brilliant leadership of the D uke of L orraine, they captured Buda, the
capital of T urkish H ungary. T he following year they won a great victory at
M ohacs, on the very scene of Suleim ans trium ph over the H ungarians a hun
dred and sixty years earlier. In 1688 the A ustrians crow ned their successes
with the capture of the key city of Belgrade, thus opening the route into the
T he V enetians m eanwhile h ad taken advantage of the concentration
of the m ain T urkish forces in the D anube Valley to launch sim ultaneous at
tacks upon the D alm atian C oast and upon southern Greece. In the latter area
the com m and was entrusted to Francesco M orosini, the hero of the C retan
W ar. H e was aided by galleys contributed by the pope, the D uke of Tuscany,
and the Knights of M alta, as well as by an arm y of hired H anoverian troops
com m anded by C ount Konigsm ark. In 1685 M orosini established a beach
head in the Peloponnesus by taking the port of C oron on the w estern coast.
T he following year he overran the southern p art of the peninsula. In 1687 he
storm ed Patras, entered the Isthm us of C orinth, and proceeded to A ttica,
where he laid siege to A thens. It was at this tim e that the P arthenon, which
had survived so m any centuries intact, was shattered by a bom b and reduced
to the ruins that we now see. T he surrender Of A thens in Septem ber, 1687,
m arked the high point of the V enetian cam paign.


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

The allied victories in H ungary and G reece created a panic in C on

stantinople. Sultan M oham m ed paid for his fatal erro r in appointing M ustafa
grand vizir by being deposed in 1687. T he new sultan, Suleim an II, showed
a certain courage and initiative th at was surprising in view of his long in
carceration in the im perial C age. A fter suppressing the m utinous janissaries
in C onstantinople he m ade peace overtures to the allies. B ut Louis X IV still
wished to keep the T urks in the field against the H apsburgs. T o achieve this
he began the W ar of the League of A ugsburg in 1688. T he T urks, as Louis
anticipated, prom ptly raised their peace term s so high th at L eopold rejected
them .
All hopes for peace disappeared the following year with the appoint
m ent to the grand vizirate of M ustafa Kiuprili, brother of the great A hm ed.
The new grand vizir acted with the energy and firmness typical of his family.
H e im m ediately broke off the peace negotiations and started a thorough
housecleaning in p reparation for a m ore vigorous conduct of the w ar. He was
aided by the fact th at the A ustrians now were distracted by the w ar with the
F rench in the west. In 1690 M ustafa began his counteroffensive.
T he A ustrians by this tim e had advanced from Belgrade through
Serbia and deep into M acedonia. Some tw enty thousand Serbs and A lbanians
joined the H apsburg arm ies with the encouragem ent of their church leaders.
Despite this defection M ustafa successfully drove the enemy out of the Bal
kans. H e recovered in quick succession N ish, Sm ederevo, Vidin, and Bel
grade, thus forcing the A ustrians back across the D anube. T he A ustrian set
back left the native insurgents in an im possible position. A bout thirty thousand
Serbs followed the retreating A ustrians into southern H ungary. We shall note
in C hapter 14 th at they settled there, establishing a flourishing com m unity that
was to m ake im portant contributions to the Serbian national renaissance in
the T urkish lands. M ustafas success, however, proved short-lived. T he follow
ing year he advanced n o rth of the D anube but was badly defeated in the
battle of Salem K emen, in which he was killed while trying desperately to
tu rn the tide.
D uring the next several years the w ar subsided to m inor and incon
clusive engagem ents. T he A ustrians were becom ing m ore deeply involved in
the w ar w ith France, and the T urks gratefully welcom ed the respite. The
only significant event was the o utburst of R ussian activity under the new tsar,
P eter the G reat. Instead of attem pting another attack on the C rim ea, Peter
turned eastw ard against the T urkish fortress at A zov com m anding the m outh
of the D on. His first assault in 1695 failed because he was unable to prevent
the T urkish fleet from bringing in reinforcem ents. W ith typical persistence
and energy, P eter built th a t w inter a pow erful flotilla at V oronezh, far up the
D on, beyond the reach of the T atars and n ear good forest supplies. T hanks
to his new warships and to the aid of A u strian engineers, he captured Azov
in 1696. P eter followed up his victory by founding a naval base near Azov
and launching an am bitious building program under the supervision of W est
ern experts. In fact, one of the m ain purposes of P e te rs journey through

Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699


W estern E urope in 1 6 9 7 -1 6 9 8 was to find shipwrights and seam en for his

Azov fleet. In this respect his trip was successful. By 1699 he had a strong
fleet on the Azov Sea. H e planned to use it to force his way through the
Strait of Kerch and out into the Black Sea. B ut he was forestalled by decisive
developm ents in the m ain theater of war.
T he T reaty of Ryswick in 1697 had ended the W ar of the League of
A ugsburg. The A ustrian arm y, now und er the com m and of Prince Eugene
of Savoy, one of the ablest generals of his tim e, returned to the E astern front.
M eanwhile, a new sultan, M ustafa II, had ascended the throne in C onstanti
nople. Recognizing th at the incapacity and slothfulness of his predecessors
had contributed to the m ilitary disasters, he resolved to lead his armies in
person after the m anner of the early sultans. In 1697 he advanced n o rth
ward from Belgrade tow ard the river Theiss. E ugene overtook M ustafa as he
was crossing the river at Senta. Only tw o hours of daylight rem ained, but
Eugene ordered an im m ediate attack. T he vigor of the assault carried all
before it. T he T urks were so disorganized that a large body of janissaries
m utinied on the field of battle and began to m assacre their officers. By the
time the sun had set, the O ttom an arm y had been annihilated. A n immense
booty fell to the victors, including all the O ttom an artillery and the sultans
treasure chest. This overw helm ing disaster, together with the French deser
tion at Ryswick and the disturbing activities of T sar Peter, decided the sultan
to seek a peace settlem ent.
T R E A T Y O F K A R L O W IT Z :


T he allies were divided on the question of the T urkish peace bid.

Both the Russians and the Poles wished to continue the war, hoping thereby
to win their respective objectives in the Black Sea and in the U kraine. Some
of E m peror L eopolds advisers, including Prince Eugene, also urged the con
tinuation of the w ar until at least Belgrade might be recovered. T he em peror,
however, inclined tow ard peace, particularly because he correctly foresaw
an early w ar with Louis X IV over the question of the Spanish succession.
Both Britain and H olland also pressed strongly for peace, partly because
their L evant trade had suffered severely during the w ar years and also
because they were very anxious that A ustria should be available as an ally in
the approaching w ar with France.
T he final decision rested with the em peror. D espite bitter Russian
protests he decided to accept the m ediation proposal of the British and D utch
diplom ats. L ate in 1698 the belligerents sent envoys to a congress held at
K arlow itz (Srem ski K arlo v ci), a village slightly to the north of Belgrade.
A fter seventy-tw o days of negotiation, the m om entous T reaty of Karlowitz
was signed on January 26, 1699, at an hour fixed for astrological reasons by
the Turks. W ith certain exceptions it was based on the status quo prevailing
when hostilities ceased. A ustria received T ransylvania, C roatia, Slavonia,
and all of H ungary except the B anat of Tem esvar. V enice obtained the Pelo
ponnesus and m ost of D alm atia. P oland recovered the province of Podolia


Defeat by Austria: Recession to the Danube: 1566-1699


lost in the previous war. T he R ussians, still determ ined to win K erch, signed
only a tw o-year truce by which they rem ained in occupation of Azov. The
following year P eter willingly signed the T reaty of C onstantinople in order
to be free for the com ing w ar with Sweden. T he treaty form ally ceded Azov
to the Russians, granted them the right to perm anent diplom atic representa
tion at C onstantinople, and acknow ledged P eters refusal to continue the an
nual tribute hitherto paid to the C rim ean T atars.
The K arlow itz settlem ent m arks a turning point in the history of
Southeastern E urope. N ever before h ad the T urks surrendered such vast
territories w ithout any com pensation. A ustria had benefited the most, as be
fitted her prim ary role in the war. W hile Louis X IV was struggling to win a
few square miles along the Rhine, she had conquered vast provinces and
extended her borders to the sum m its of the C arpathians. She was now the
dom inant power in C entral E urope and she overshadow ed the Balkan Penin
sula. Her frontiers parallcd the O ttom an along the D rava, Sava, and D anube
rivers. T he T urkish tide unm istakably had begun to ebb. N ever again was
E urope threatened by the pow er which for alm ost three centuries had
m enaced its security.
Instead E urope henceforth faced precisely the opposite problem the
so-called Eastern Q uestion created by the recession of O ttom an power. This
recession produced a vacuum in the N ear E ast, and one of the basic problem s
of E uropean diplom acy until the end of W orld W ar I was how to fill this

1 1 .

D e fe a t b y R u ssia : R e c e ss io n


th e D n ie ste r:

1 6 9 9 -1 7 9 2

, I

enjoyed eleven years of peace

after the K arlow itz T reaty. T hen followed three decades of interm ittent w ar
culm inating in the Belgrade T reaty of 1739. T hanks to great-pow er rivalries
the em pire survived this ordeal w ithout territorial losses. N ext cam e three
decades of peace, during which C hristian E urope was engrossed in the W ar
of A ustrian Succession and the Seven Y ears Wair. T he accession of C ath
erine the G reat of R ussia spelled the end of peace and the beginning of an
other series of wars (1 7 6 9 -1 7 9 2 ) that were to prove as disastrous as those
against the Holy League in the preceding century. R uinous defeats followed
one upon the other for a quarter of a century. W hen peace finally was re
stored by the T reaty of Jassy in 1792 the em pire had lost the entire northern
shore of the Black Sea. F or the first tim e in centuries there was not only talk
of expelling the T urk from E urope but also a distinct possibility th at this
goal m ight be realized.
T he reason for this great setback was that the balance between T u r
key and R ussia had swung steeply in favor of the latter. R ussia possessed a
m atchless instrum ent of m ilitary pow er in the brilliant M arshal Suvorov, and
she also possessed a diplom at of consum m ate skill in her new sovereign,
C atherine the G reat. In an age that boasted such m asters of the art of diplo
m acy as E m press M aria T heresa, Prince K aunitz, and Frederick the G reat,
the new tsarina m ore th an held her own. It is true th at she appeared on the
scene at an unusually propitious m om ent. A ustria and Prussia were ex
hausted by the Seven Y ears W ar; F rance und er Louis X V and X V I was on
the dow ngrade; and E ngland was facing the revolt of the Thirteen Colonies.
Y et it was C atherines perception and resolute will th at enabled her to ex-
ploit these advantages and to dow er her adopted country, as she proudly
boasted, with Azov, the C rim ea, and the U kraine.
JLh e O



m pir e

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


The exhaustion of the O ttom an E m pire and th e unw arlike c h a ra c te r
of A hm ed III explain the period of peace following the K arlow itz se ttle m e n t.
T he T urks m ade no attem pt to take advantage of th e W ar of th e S p an ish
Succession o r the N orthern W ar to try to recover th e territories lo st in th e
recent war. This policy of nonintervention saved R ussia from serious tro u b le
when she was invaded by C harles X II of Sweden in 1708. It also e n a b le d
T sar Peter to defeat C harles at the battle of Poltava on July 8, 1709. T h e
following year hostilities broke out again betw een T urkey and R ussia. O d d ly
enough, it was A hm ed who declared w ar and P eter w ho tried to avoid it.
W hatever his ultim ate designs in the south m ight have been, Peter at this
point wished to preserve peace with the O ttom an E m pire. His failure was due
not to lack of effort on his p art but rath er to the trium ph of a w ar p a rty in
C onstantinople.
Charles X II had fled to the O ttom an capital following his d e fe at
in the U kraine. N aturally he m ade every effort to enlist the T u rk s in his
struggle against Peter. H e had the active support of the F rench, w ho w ere
unalterably opposed to R ussian aggrandizem ent a t the expense of th eir tr a
ditional anti-H apsburg allies Sweden, Poland, and Turkey. P erh ap s m o st
influential was the prow ar attitude of the C rim ean T atars, who resented the
cessation of R ussian tribute following the 1700 T reaty of C o n stantinople.
Also, they were alarm ed by the R ussian conquest of A zov and by the building
of Russian forts on the low er D nieper. T hese forts especially were th o rn s in
their side. They ham pered their raids, threatened their grazing and hunting
grounds, and m enaced their land com m unications with the T urkish fortresses
on the D nieper and with the T a ta r tribes betw een the Bug and D n iester
rivers. F o r these reasons the C rim ean khan used his pow erful influence in
C onstantinople for a cam paign to beat back the advancing R ussians. O n
N ovem ber 16, 1710, the British m inister in C onstantinople rep o rted to
L ondon: T he T a rta r H an, who hath been all along bent upon a ru p tu re
[with R ussia], displayed all his E loquence to persuade the M inisters, the m en
of the Law , and the Soldiery of the Necessity thereof. . .
F o u r days la te r
the m inister reported th at the sultan had declared w ar, and added, T his
great T urn of Affairs is wholly the W ork of the T a rta r H a n . 1
P eter postponed a form al declaration of w ar until M arch 11, 1711,
in the hope of persuading the sultan to reconsider his decision. W hen it b e
cam e clear th at hostilities were unavoidable, he issued a proclam ation to the
B alkan peoples to arise against the T urks and to fight with the R ussians for
faith and fatherland, for your honor and glory, for the freedom and liberty of
yourself and your descendants. T hus w ould the descendants of the heathen
M oham m ed be driven o u t into their old fatherland, the A rab ian sands and
steppes. 2
Peter m arched at the head of his arm y through the Polish U kraine
and into M oldavia, w here he captured the capital, Jassy. F o r the first tim e


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

since the days of Prince Sviatoslav, seven centuries earlier, R ussian cavalry
men w atered their horses in the D anube. But P eters boldness proved his
undoing. His arm y lost heavily from disease and lack of food. T he B alkan
C hristians failed to give effective aid. T he T urks crossed the D anube sooner
th an expected, and, reinforced by a large contingent of T atars, they trapped
Peter in a vulnerable position on the right b ank of the P ruth. In order to
save his arm y, Peter accepted the hum iliating T reaty of P ruth (July 21,
17 1 1 ). He surrendered all th at he had gained in the previous w ar Azov,
T aganrog, the D nieper forts, and the privilege of diplom atic representation
in C onstantinople.
T he grand vizir, B altadji, was dism issed a few m onths later on the
charge of having neglected the opportunity of destroying o r capturing the
R ussian arm y and the tsar himself. He was also accused of having accepted
a huge bribe to conclude the treaty. This charge, which has been widely ac
cepted, appears to be highly dubious. B altadji was convinced, and with much
justification, th a t in refusing to press the w ar further he was serving the in
terests of the sultan, if not those of the T a ta r khan and the Swedish king. In
fact, the British m inister reported th at the sultan had no regard for the
interests of Charles of Sweden, and wished only to drive the Russians from
the B lack Sea w ithout any thoughts or even desire of extending his T erri
tories far tow ards M uscovy. T hus the sultan, according to this well-informed
envoy, was exceedingly pleased w ith the Peace, and readily gave his ra ti
fication. . . . 3
A significant feature of this cam paign was the failure of the B alkan
C hristians to respond effectively to P eters appeal. Sporadic revolts did flare
up in the m ountainous areas of the w estern Balkans, particularly in M onte
negro and in southern H erzegovina. T he M ontenegrin prince-bishop, Daniel
Petrovich, concluded a treaty with a Russian agent in A pril, 1712. But there
was no possibility of linking up with the Russians in distant M oldavia, and
Peters defeat doom ed the uprisings to failure. Only the Rum anians of the
Principalities were in a position to cooperate with the R ussians. T he hospodar
of M oldavia, D em etrius C antem ir, secretly allied himself with Peter. H e was
unable, however, to give substantial aid, having only recently assum ed his
post and being at daggers draw n with the W allachian hospodar, C onstantine
B rancoveanu. T he latter had a sizable arm y and abundant supplies, and had
m aintained secret relations with Peter for som e years. Y et he refused to
com m it him self during the crucial early days, and later, w hen the T urks
crossed the D anube in force, he subm itted to their dem ands.
T he basic difficulty was th at an effective B alkan uprising was im
practical w ithout a R ussian invasion in force, and the latter in turn was im
practical so long as Peter placed the B altic first and the Balkans second.
R ussia was not yet strong enough to wage a tw o-front w ar. This h ad to wait
until the tim e of C atherine at the end of the century. H ence it was A ustria
rath er th an Russia th at had the com m anding position during this period.
A ustrian rath er than R ussian generals assum ed the role of liberators in the

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


northern Balkans in 1690 and in 17 1 6 -1 7 1 8 . N evertheless, P eters cam paign

did have certain repercussions in the Balkans. It initiated close relations be
tween M ontenegro and Russia that were to continue for the next tw o cen
turies. It also led to the appointm ent of G reek adm inistrators, known as
P hanariotes, to the hospodarships of the D anubian Principalities. These men
took the place of the R um anian nobles who hitherto had filled the positions
but who were now distrusted because of the defection of C antem ir and the
vacillation of B rancoveanu. Phanariote rule in the Principalities continued
until the G reek revolution of 1821 and, as we shall note in C hapter 13, con
tributed greatly to the ascendancy of G reek influence in the O ttom an E m pire
during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

W ith the signing of the Pruth T reaty a struggle ensued in C onstanti
nople between those who favored the form ation of a Turkish-Sw edish-Polish
league in order to renew the w ar against Russia, and those who urged instead
a w ar against Venice in order to recover the Peloponnesus lost in the K arlo
witz settlem ent. T he latter group prevailed because cam paigns beyond the
lower D anube were never popular in T urkey. Even if they ended successfully
they did not bring m any real advantages to com pensate for the hardships
and losses incurred in fighting in distant lands. Accordingly, the T urks con
solidated their peace with Russia by concluding on June 27, 1713, the
A drianople T reaty reaffirming the term s of the Pruth Treaty.
The T urks then launched their long-planned war against Venice. In
the sum m er of 1715 they sent an arm y under G rand Vizir D am ad Ali to con
quer the Peloponnesus. Everything favored the invaders. They outnum bered
the eight thousand V enetian defenders several times. T heir leader proved to
be an energetic and skillful com m ander. They m et with no resistance from
the native G reeks, who were thoroughly dissatisfied after sixteen years of
Venetian rule. D am ad skillfully exploited this anti-V enetian sentim ent by
giving strict orders to his soldiers to respect the persons and property of the
G reek peasants. T he latter responded by welcoming the T urks and providing
them with abundant provisions for which they received liberal com pensation.
These circum stances enabled D am ad to overrun the entire peninsula
in one hundred days. F irst C orinth fell after a three-w eek siege. T hen the
T urks advanced southw ard in two divisions. N o pitched battles were fought.
T he cam paign consisted of a series of successful sieges until all the V enetian
fortresses had been reduced. M eanw hile the O ttom an fleet, reinforced by
ships from E gypt and the Barbary States, was driving the V enetians out of
the A egean Islands th at they held. Before the end of the year D am ad was
preparing to follow up his success by attacking the Ionian Islands on the
west coast of G reece and then proceeding against the V enetian possessions
in D alm atia.
A t this point A ustria intervened by concluding an alliance w ith


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

V enice early in 1716. T he D ivan in C onstantinople debated w hether the

action should be considered a casus belli. M any T urks rem em bered the dis
asters of the previous A ustrian w ar and counseled peace. B ut D am ad, in
spired by his victories and encouraged by his astrologers, persuaded the
D ivan to declare for war. In the sum m er of 1716 D am ad m arched north
from Belgrade tow ard Peterw ardein (P e tro v a rad in ), w here nemesis awaited
him in the person of the H apsburg general, Prince Eugene of Savoy.
tre a ty :

1718 )

Since his great victories over the T urks in the previous w ar Prince
Eugene had won m any battles against the F rench and had earned a rep u ta
tion equaled only by th at of his com panion-at-arm s, the D uke of M arlbor
ough. In the forthcom ing cam paign his brilliant generalship together with
the superiority of his troops in training and arm am ents caused the T urks to
suffer another series of disastrous defeats. T he first engagem ent was fought
before the P eterw ardein fortress in A ugust, 1716. D espite the num erical
preponderance of the O ttom an army, Prince Eugene routed it and captured
all its artillery. G rand V izir D am ad was killed in a desperate effort to turn
the tide. Tw enty days later E ugene was before Tem esvar, the last great
T urkish stronghold in H ungary. Its garrison capitulated after a siege of five
weeks. This com pleted the cam paign of 1716.
T he following year E ugene took the initiative by besieging Belgrade.
A fter three weeks a T urkish relief arm y appeared under the new G rand Vizir
Khalil. Eugene was in a critical position. T he Belgrade garrison was in front
of him and K halils arm y, double the num ber of his own, threatened his rear.
E ugene boldly attacked the T urkish arm y and again won a brilliant victory,
inflicting tw enty thousand casualties and suffering only two thousand of his
own. T he following day B elgrades garrison of thirty thousand m en sur
Eugene followed up his victory by advancing southw ard from Bel
grade and occupying a large p art of Serbia and of w estern W allachia. T he
A ustrians appealed to the Serbians to join their arm ies as they had done dur
ing the previous W ar of the H oly League. B ut this tim e the response was
negligible. T he Serbians rem em bered the tragic fate of thousands of their
com patriots who had taken up arms against the T urks and then were forced
to flee their country following the K arlow itz T reaty. T he passiveness of the
Serbians did not affect the outcom e of the w ar. By this time the T urks were
ready to cease hostilities.
T he peace negotiations th at followed resem ble closely those at the
end of the W ar of the H oly League. B ritain and H olland again pressed for
peace because of the disruption of their L evant com m erce. Venice favored
the continuation of the war, as Poland and Russia had in the earlier conllict.
T he V enetians had beaten off a T urkish attack on C orfu in 1716. T hey had

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


also received naval reinforcem ents from Spain, Portugal, and various Italian
states, and were now in a position to recover som e of the territories they had
lost in the first year of the war. B ut E m p ero r C harles V I, like his predecessor,
L eopold I, decided in favor of peace. A nd the reason again was a com plica
tion in the west this tim e a Spanish attack upon Sardinia. A ccordingly the
em peror accepted the T reaty of Passarow itz (P o zarev ac), July 21, 1718,
based on the status quo at the end of hostilities. H e gained the rem ainder of
H ungary, m ost of Serbia, and p a rt of W allachia and Bosnia. The republic of
Venice, in whose behalf A ustria ostensibly had em barked on the w ar, fared
badly by the treaty. It surrendered the Peloponnesus but retained the Ionian
Islands and m ade a few gains in D alm atia. This treaty raised H apsburg pres
tige in the Balkans to new heights, in con trast to the sad decline of Venice
and the m ilitary hum iliation of the O tto m an E m pire.
(B E L G R A D E T R E A T Y :

1739 )

D uring the years following the Passarow itz T reaty the T urks were
engaged in the east w here, together with the R ussians, they were annexing
whole provinces at the expense of a w eak and anarchical Persia. In 1723
P eter the G reat acquired the entire w estern and southern seaboard of the
C aspian Sea, and the following year the T urks gained the w estern provinces
of Persia, including the cities of T abriz, H am adan, and E rivan. B ut neither
the R ussians nor the T urks were to keep their booty for long. T here now
appeared in P ersia a great leader, N ad ir Kuli, who organized a national re
vival and forced both T urkey and Russia by 1735 to return the lost provinces.
R ussia had been willing to w ithdraw from the C aspian region in
o rder to prepare for a m ove tow ard the B lack Sea. T he latter was m ore
valuable both econom ically and strategically. Possession of the northern
shore of the B lack Sea offered Russia dazzling opportunities. It would finally
rid her of the dreadful T a ta r raids th at had cost her so m uch in treasure and
in hum an lives. It would open up vast new areas for settlem ent and exploita
tion. It would give h er the great C rim ean Peninsula which dom inated the
entire B lack Sea. A nd it would enable her to control the outlets of five m ajor
rivers th a t drained h er plains the D niester, the Bug, the D nieper, the D on,
and the K uban.
A ll these prizes appeared at this tim e to be w ithin the reach of
R ussian m ilitary pow er and diplom acy. Ivan N eplinev, the well-inform ed
R ussian am bassador at C onstantinople, was reporting to his governm ent th at
the T urkish defeats in Persia h ad left the O ttom an E m pire ripe for plucking.
The tim e has com e, he urged, to fall upon these b arb arian s. This advice
is significant. F o r the first tim e R ussia was in a position to consider seriously
a drive to the B lack Sea. P eters expedition to the P ru th had n o t been p art
of a calculated offensive against the O tto m an Em pire. His resources had not
been sufficient to allow him to fight both the T urks and the Swedes, so he


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

had concentrated against the latter. B ut Em press A nne now was in a more
favorable situation. The Swedes had been subdued and the Poles had been
forced to accept a pro-R ussian king as a result of the W ar of the Polish Suc
cession (1 7 3 3 -1 7 3 5 ). R ussia could turn to the south and engage the T atars
and the T urks w ithout fear of diversion. T hus the R usso-T urkish W ar of
1 7 3 6 -1 7 3 9 may be regarded as the beginning of R ussias system atic struggle
to reach the B lack Sea, a bloody and severe struggle th a t persisted until
C atherine brought it to a successful conclusion at the end of the century. The
T urks were not averse to a break with the Russians. They had been deeply
disturbed by R ussian aggression in P oland during the W ar of the Polish
Succession. T he F rench am bassador at C onstantinople, M arquis de Villeneuve, had m ade every effort at th at time to induce the sultan to declare w ar
against the R ussian em press. B ut his intrigues were neutralized by the crush
ing defeats that N adir Kuli was then inflicting upon the Turks. Now, how
ever, both the T urks and the R ussians had concluded their Persian com m it
m ents, and having done so, they drifted alm ost inevitably to war, aided by
the enthusiastic prodding of Villeneuve.
Tw o R ussian arm ies advanced southw ard, one under M arshal M unnich against the C rim ean Peninsula and the other under M arshal Lacy against
the T urkish fortress of Azov. M unnich storm ed and broke through the forttified lines stretching across the Isthm us of Perekop linking the peninsula to
the m ainland. He pressed forw ard, capturing the C rim ean capital, Bakhchi
sarai, and overrunning and devastating the whole peninsula. His m en, how
ever, suffered so severely from disease and exhaustion th at they revolted
and com pelled him to w ithdraw to the U kraine before the winter. M ean
while Lacy had m et with obstinate resistance at Azov. T he T urkish garrison
had inflicted such heavy casualties th at Lacy allowed it to m arch out with
all the honors of war. T hen, on hearing th at M unnich had retreated to the
U kraine, he followed his exam ple and abandoned the fortress.
This cam paign of 1736 had cost the R ussians dearly. M unnich alone
had lost no less than thirty thousand of his fifty-seven thousand men, of
which only two thousand had fallen in action. Em press A nne was encour
aged, however, by the readiness of the A ustrians to enter the w ar in order
to garner a few m ore T urkish provinces. A secret treaty signed in January,
1737, provided th at the tw o pow ers should wage w ar in concert against the
O tto m an E m pire. B ut the A ustrians no longer had the incom parable Prince
Eugene, while the T urkish forces showed some im provem ent in discipline
and in m aneuvering. C onsequently the cam paigns in 1737 and 1738 did not
prove as decisive as expected. T he A ustrians barely held their own in the
Balkans while the R ussians overran the C rim ea twice but were forced to
w ithdraw each tim e because they could not support them selves in the devas
tated country. T he only outstanding success was M unnichs capture of the
T urkish fortress O chakov, n ear the m outh of the Bug River.
N egotiations for peace had been held interm ittently during the course
o f the war. A new attem pt to end hostilities was made during the w inter of

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


1 7 3 8 -1 7 3 9 . It failed, partly because the T urks were m ore dem anding after
their successes against the A ustrians, and also because M arshal M unnich won
the tsarin as support for his grandiose O riental project. M unnich proposed
to cross the D anube, conquer the D anubian Principalities, and strike for
C onstantinople itself. H e assured the tsarina that all the G reeks regarded . . .
[her] as their legitim ate Sovereign . . . th at it was desirable to seize this
first m om ent of their hope and enthusiasm , and to m arch to C onstantinople;
and th at such a fram e of m ind might never again be found. 4
M unnichs optim ism appeared to be justified. W hile his agents
w orked in E pirus and Thessaly for a C hristian uprising, he advanced rapidly
southw ard at the head of his army. Profiting from his experience in the pre
vious cam paign, he avoided the difficult country along the Black Sea coast
and instead entered M oldavia through the Polish province of Podolia. O n
August 18, 1739, he routed a T urkish arm y before the fortress of K hotin,
and a few days later captured the fortress itself. Then he entered the M ol
davian capital, Jassy, w ithout opposition, and thence wheeled into Bessarabia,
intending to reduce the T urkish forts in th at province before pushing on to
ward C onstantinople.
At this point M unnich received the miserable and crushing news
of the separate peace th at the A ustrians had concluded with the Turks. The
O ttom an generals had followed a strategy that proved com pletely successful.
They had concentrated their forces on the D anube, so that the A ustrian gen
erals found them selves outnum bered alm ost four to one. T hey suffered a
decisive defeat in the open field and fell back upon Belgrade. This reverse
was all the m ore serious in view of the R ussian successes in the Principalities.
T he A ustrians had no desire to continue a w ar that seem ed likely to intro
duce a rival great pow er in the Balkans. This consideration a recurring
feature of Balkan politics to the present day decided the A ustrians to accept
the m ediation of V illeneuve and to sign the T reaty of Belgrade (Septem ber
18, 1 7 3 9 ). They surrendered all th at they had gained at Passarow itz
Bosnia, W allachia, and Serbia, including the city of Belgrade.
T he A ustrian defection produced dism ay and indignation in the
R ussian cam p. B ut the consequences were unavoidable. M unnich could not
continue his advance with a victorious T urkish army ready to fall on his
llank. Reluctantly the Russians decided to conclude a peace on the best term s
they could. By the N issa T reaty of O ctober 3, 1739, they surrendered their
gains in M oldavia and in the C rim ea, retaining only Azov on the condition
th at its fortifications be dem olished and no fleet be m aintained in its waters.
T he Russians did win the right to trade on the Sea of Azov and the Black
Sea, provided, however, th at their goods be carried in T urkish vessels.
The peace settlem ent was a hum iliation for A ustria, a success for the
T urks, a trium ph for the F rench, and a disappointm ent for the Russians. The
latter, however, gained m ore benefits than appear to be the case at first glance.
They had given the C rim ean T atars a taste of their own medicine and no
longer had to suffer their devastating raids. T he R ussians also had raised


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

greatly their m ilitary prestige in E urope, particularly in view of the contrast

betw een the success of their arm ies and the failure of the A ustrian. Indeed,
the chief significance of the w ar is th at it dem onstrated R ussias growing
strength and presaged w hat could be expected in the future. In 1711 Peter
h ad suffered m ilitary defeat. A q u arter of a century later A nne trium phed
m ilitarily but failed diplom atically. In another three decades C atherine was
to win both the m ilitary and diplom atic battles, and to gain for R ussia the
long-coveted shores of the B lack Sea.
T H R E E DECADES O F P E A C E : 1739-1768
T he O ttom an E m pire enjoyed three decades of peace following the
Belgrade and N issa treaties. Persia was too exhausted after N ad irs ceaseless
wars to cause any trouble along the eastern frontier. A ustria and Russia were
fully com m itted in the W ar of the A ustrian Succession (1 7 4 0 -1 7 4 8 ) and the
Seven Y ears W ar (1 7 5 6 -1 7 6 3 ) and had no desire for further com plications
on another front. T he T urks, on their part, did not wish to take advantage
of the great E uropean conflicts to attem pt the recovery of their lost dom inions
north of the D anube. Sultan M ahm ud p referred to keep the peace, and this
policy was continued by his successors, O thm an III (1 7 5 4 -1 7 5 7 ) and M us
tafa III ( 1 7 5 7 -1 7 7 3 ).
It is notew orthy th at Prussia em erged in the 1750s as an active
participant in N ear E astern affairs. T he explanation is to be found in F red
erick the G re a ts search for allies against the enemies th a t surrounded him.
His position had becom e perilous w hen the A ustrian chancellor, Prince
K aunitz, engineered the fam ous D iplom atic R evolution and secured alliances
with France and Russia. W hen the Seven Y ears W ar began in 1756, F red
erick faced this form idable com bination w ithout a single ally on the C onti
nent. In anticipation of this encirclem ent he h ad sent an envoy to C onstanti
nople in 1755 with a proposal for a com m ercial treaty and a m ilitary alliance.
T he T u rk s rejected this overture, deciding th at it was to their advantage to
rem ain neutral while the A ustrians and the R ussians w eakened themselves
fighting the Prussians.
Frederick persisted in his efforts. F o r several years he bom barded
Sultan M ustafa with messages em phasizing the perils of neutrality and the
possibilities of intervention. O n three occasions the sultan and his m inisters
were influenced to the point of seriously considering intervention. B ut some
incident always occurred to frustrate F red ericks design. In 1760 it was the
refusal of the British governm ent to sponsor the proposed T urkish-Prussian
alliance. T he following year it was the decision of T sar P eter III to w ithdraw
R ussia from the war. Finally, the accession of C atherine the G reat in 1762
led the T urks to hold back until the foreign policy of the new tsarina could
be ascertained. In 1764 the O ttom an governm ent received disquieting reports
of a Russian-Prussian agreem ent for intervention in Polish affairs. A n envoy
was sent to Berlin to protest against foreign interference in the selection of

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


the new Polish king. T he reception accorded the envoy was an om inous p o r
tent of w hat was to come. Frederick affirmed his intention to intervene to
gether w ith C atherine, and blandly asserted th a t the intervention would
restore peace in Poland and would, therefore, be to the interest of all neigh
boring countries, including the O ttom an Em pire.
This represented the beginning of a new era in E astern E uropean
diplom acy. Russia and Prussia now took the place of Sweden, Poland, and
T urkey as the leading pow ers of E astern E urope. This shift set off a chain
reaction that soon transform ed the m ap of E urope betw een the Baltic and
the Black seas. T he intervention of F rederick and C atherine in Poland led
to w ar betw een Russia and Turkey in 1768 and hence to the linking of the
Polish and T urkish questions. By the end of the century Poland had ceased
to exist as a nation while T urkey had lost the Crim ean Peninsula and the
whole of the U kraine.

C a t h e r i n e s f i r s t T u r k i s h w a r :


T he prim ary factor behind C atherines and F redericks intervention

in Poland was the sad decline of that country during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. F o r various reasons Poland had sunk to the point w here
foreign powers intervened openly in the election of her kings. W hen King
Augustus III died in A ugust, 1763, C atherine decided th at his successor
should be Stanislas Poniatow ski, a Polish noblem an who form erly had been
her param our and who could be depended upon to do her bidding. T o ensure
his election C atherine signed a treaty with Frederick the G reat in A pril,
1764, for com m on action in Poland. T hey agreed to secure the election of
Poniatow ski, to protect the religious rights of the Dissenters (O rthodox and
Protestant Polish su b jects), and to support each other if either were attacked.
This diplom atic preparation, together with the judicious expenditure of m oney
and the m obilization of Russian troops, persuaded the Polish D iet to vote as
desired. B ut when C atherine continued to intervene blatantly in dom estic
Polish affairs, a group of Polish patriots form ed the C onfederation of B ar
(in P odo lia) to fight for religion and for liberty. A bloody struggle ensued
betw een these Confederates and the R ussians.
F ran ce and A ustria cordially supported the C onfederates. T hey sent
money, arm s, and a few officers to their aid. In C onstantinople the F rench
am bassador pursued the custom ary strategy: goading the T urks to m ake a
diversion on R ussias flank. T he T urks were not loath to do so. They were
alarm ed by the increasing num bers of R ussian agents operating throughout
the Balkans. Indeed, a small insurrection had broken out in M ontenegro in
1767 and threatened to spread to neighboring areas. The Crim ean T atars
also favored w ar against R ussia and exerted pressure in C onstantinople to
w ard th a t end. T he breaking point cam e w hen R ussian troops, pursuing a
band of C onfederates, violated the O ttom an frontier and burned a T urkish
town. This act so inflam ed T urkish public opinion th a t the C onstantinople


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

governm ent was virtually forced to declare w ar suddenly in O ctober, 1768.

C atherine prom ptly appealed to E urope against the com m on enemy of the
C hristian nam e. T he T urks, not to be outdone, issued a m anifesto declaring
the D issenters traitors to their church and religion. T he w ar began on this
com ic note, the deist tsarina posing as the cham pion of O rthodoxy and
Protestantism , and the M oslem sultan as the defender of Catholicism .
T he superiority of the R ussian arm ies was evident from the outset.
B ut F rederick the G reat was not im pressed by their victories. W ith his cus
tom ary tartness he rem arked th at the R ussians were ignorant of fortifica
tions and tactics and th at to form a clear idea of this war, one m ust
im agine one-eyed m en w ho have given blind men a thorough beating, and
gained a com plete ascendancy over them . 5 F redericks observation was not
altogether unjustified, but C atherine showed m ore sense of historical perspec
tive in h er reply to a sim ilar disparagem ent by another critic: Ignorance
with the R ussians is the ignorance of earliest youth; with the T urks it is th at
of dotage. B
C atherine began the w ar with her custom ary energy. She mobilized
five arm ies, some to rem ain on the defensive in R ussia and Poland, and
others to take the offensive in the Balkans and the Caucasus. Prince G olitsyn
on the B alkan front was the m ost successful. In the spring of 1769 he reached
the D niester River, defeated a T urkish arm y on its banks, and w ent on to
occupy, first Jassy, the capital of M oldavia, and then B ucharest, the capital
of W allachia.
This was startling to E urope, but the following year unfolded still
m ore unexpected events. T he m ost dram atic was the appearance for the first
tim e of a Russian fleet in the M editerranean. C atherine had conceived the
daring project of sending p art of her Baltic fleet around E urope to the waters
of the Levant. T he objective was tw ofold: to fom ent a revolt in G reece, and
to destroy the O ttom an fleet. In view of later developm ents it is w orth noting
that Britain not only tolerated but actively assisted this expedition. Both
strategic and econom ic considerations explain this policy. B ritains great im
perial rival at this tim e was France rath er than Russia. B ritain feared a
F rench com eback in Ind ia where Clive h ad defeated D upleix only seven
years earlier. In contrast, she welcomed R ussias success over Sweden in the
Baltic because it established an equilibrium in th at area, and she also favored
a R ussian victory over F ran ces ally T urkey because it w ould indirectly
strengthen her own position in the M editerranean. Finally, B ritain faced stiff
F rench com m ercial com petition in the L evant, w hereas R ussia was an im
p o rtan t m arket for her m anufactured goods and an essential source of ijaval
stores. A ccording to an official F rench estim ate, the total foreign trade (both
im ports and exports) of the O ttom an E m pire in 1783 am ounted to 110
m illion livres, of .which trade with F ran ce accounted for 60 million. O n the
o ther hand, in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, no m ore than 27
B ritish ships w ent to the L evant in any one year, against an average of 600
to 700 ships that went to R ussia.7 These considerations explain why Britain

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


allowed the Russian fleet to stop for supplies and repairs at Hull, G ibraltar,
and Port M ahon. They also explain why the British governm ent repeatedly
w arned Paris and M adrid against taking any hostile action against the R us
sian fleet.
A dvance units of the R ussian expedition arrived olf the w estern
coast of G reece in F ebruary, 1770. F rom the first everything went wrong.
W ithin a few m onths the R ussian com m ander, Alexei O rlov, was reporting
to C atherine, The natives here are sycophantic, deceitful, im pudent, fickle
and cow ardly, com pletely given over to m oney and to plunder. 8 The diffi
culty arose from m utual m isunderstanding. Russian agents had sent glowing
but exaggerated reports of a nation ready to spring to arms. In fact, the m ore
sober G reek leaders had w arned that large quantities of arm s and at least
ten thousand Russian troops were essential for a successful uprising. But now
they saw only four ships, a few hundred soldiers, and forty boxes of arms.
T he G reeks naturally were disillusioned and held back, causing the Russians
in tu rn to feel betrayed.
W ith the appearance of m ore R ussian ships several thousand G reeks
finally took up arm s. But they were unable to coordinate their operations,
either am ong themselves or with the Russians. T he only notable success was
the capture of N avarino in A pril, 1770. O ther sieges failed because neither
the Russians nor the G reeks possessed the necessary equipm ent and skills.
M eanwhile, the local O ttom an governor had collected an overwhelm ing force
of A lbanians and was closing in on the Russians and their Greek allies. Orlov
decided to abandon the ill-fated venture and sailed away in June. The unruly
A lbanians then ran wild, m assacring the G reeks and pillaging the country
side until expelled forcefully by a T urkish army in 1779.
The Russians failed on land, but they won a resounding victory at
sea. In this case F red erick s analogy of the one-eyed and the blind was fully
justified. W hen a p a rt of the R ussian fleet put into English ports en route
south, the British were astounded by the clum siness and poor construction
of the ships and by the inexperience of the crews a fact which further ex
plains why the British accepted so indifferently R ussian intrusion in the
M editerranean. B ut the O ttom an fleet was worse. A fter thirty years of peace
it was fit only to carry out its custom ary duty of collecting the revenue in the
A egean area.
T he first engagem ent was fought in July, 1770, off the island of
Chios n ear the coast of A sia M inor. O rlov, aided by som e luck, and still
m ore by the English officers under his com m and, won a decisive victory.
T he T urks fled to the nearby h arb o r of Chesm e. T here a British lieutenant,
under the cover of darkness, steered a flreship into the m idst of the cooped-up
O ttom an fleet. N ight becam e day as the entire fleet went up in flames am id
the ear-splitting roars of exploding m agazines. The British officer, A dm iral
E lphinstone, favored an im m ediate attack upon C onstantinople, but O rlov
vetoed the project. T o this day there is sharp conflict of opinion concerning
the wisdom of O rlovs decision. Some authorities m aintain th at the veto was


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

justified given the p o o r condition of the R ussian ships and the alm ost com
plete lack of landing forces. O thers claim th at the T urks were so dem oralized
th at an im m ediate attack upon C onstantinople in all probability w ould have
succeeded. In any case, O rlov spent the sum m er m onths occupying eighteen
Aegean islands, which gave him control of the Levant w aters until the end
of the war.
M eanw hile, the R ussians h ad been equally successful on land. A large
arm y of T urkish soldiers and T a ta r irregulars invaded M oldavia. They were
decisively defeated at K arkal in A ugust, 1770. The T urks fell back south of
the D anube while the T atars attem pted to hold the line of fortresses in Bessa
rab ia and the D obruja. B ut one after another they fell to the victorious R us
sians Kilia, A ckerm an, Ism ail, Bendery, and Braila. By the end of the year
all the fortresses on the low er D anube were in Russian hands.
T w o years earlier, w hen Choiseul, the F rench foreign m inister, in
structed V ergennes in C onstantinople to incite the T urks against the R ussians,
he added cynically, T he rottenness of the T urks in every departm ent might
m ake this trial of strength fatal to them ; th at m atters little to us, provided
the object of an im m ediate explosion be attained. 9 C hoiseul proved to be
correct in his appraisal of the T urks, but not on the outcom e of the war. T he
T urks lost the battles, but it was the Poles who lost their independence. T he
reason is to be found in the chain of events set off by the linking of the
Polish and E astern Q uestions.
T he overwhelm ing Russian victories caused alarm both in V ienna
and in Berlin. T he A ustrians regarded R ussias penetration to the D anube as
a threat to their security. T he m ore the R ussians advanced the m ore likely
the A ustrians were to intervene and thus to precipitate a general E uropean
war. Frederick of Prussia was also unhappy about Russian aggrandizem ent
at the expense of T urkey because it offered him no com pensating gain. B ut
he was equally unhappy at the prospect of a R ussian-A ustrian w ar because
he w ould be involved and again with little likelihood of gain. T he problem
was to find some basis for a peaceful settlem ent acceptable to all three
pow ers. P oland offered the way out. Since P oland had caused the RussoT urkish w ar, Frederick rem arked, she should also pay the dam ages. C ath
erine could help herself in eastern P oland in return for renouncing her
conquests on the D anube. A ustria and Prussia could also find am ple com
pensation in other parts of Poland. In this m anner O ttom an intervention in
behalf of Poland culm inated paradoxically in the eventual disappearance of
C atherine was willing to end hostilities on the basis proposed by
Frederick, particularly because of increasing difficulties a t hom e. M aria
T heresa, the H apsburg em press, was far from enthusiastic, b u t the alternative
she faced was a w ar in support of T urkey. This was out of the question, so
M aria T heresa gave w ay and proceeded to bargain vigorously for her share
of the booty. On A ugust 5, 1772, the three powers signed, in the Nam e of
the Very Holy T rinity, the p artition treaties by which Poland lost approxi

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


m ately one third of her territory and one half of her population. T he follow
ing spring, R ussian bayonets prodded the treaties through the Polish D iet and
the partition becam e official.
T he p artition treaties provided th at A ustria should use her good
offices to bring about peace betw een R ussia and Turkey. N egotiations were
conducted in B ucharest for several m onths. T he Russians m ade reasonable
dem ands, considering their m ilitary successes and their territorial conquests.
T he sultan and his m inisters favored acceptance of the term s, but they were
unable to win over the influential religious leaders. The w ar continued an
other two years. T he 1773 cam paign was inconclusive. T he Russians won
several victories in the open field but failed to capture the three T urkish for
tresses south of the D anube V arna, Silistria, and Shumla.
T he following year the genius of A lexander Suvorov, the R ussian
m arshal, forced the T urks to accept the term s they had previously rejected.
Suvorov ranks with the great m ilitary captains of history. A slight, frail, and
eccentric m an, he was an accom plished scholar and linguist as well as a m as
terful strategist and a born leader of men. H e was to win his m ost notable
victories against the T urks in the next w ar a decade later. A t this time he was
stationed on the D anube where the grand vizir ap p roached him with the main
Turkish army. In accordance with his m axim of never allowing the enemy to
strike first, Suvorov m arched south and won a crushing victory at Kostliji.
T he T urks fell back upon Shum la, which Suvorov prom ptly surrounded and
cut off from C onstantinople. T he grand vizir asked for an armistice. Suvorov
refused but offered to discuss peace term s. T he D ivan in C onstantinople ac
cepted the offer. O n July 16, 1774, after only seven hours of discussion, the
plenipotentiaries signed the T reaty of K uchuk K ainarji (T he L ittle F o u n tain )
in an obscure Bulgarian village of th at nam e.
T he treaty was suprisingly m oderate in its territorial provisions. Y et
it ranks with the K arlow itz pact in its significance for the future. T he earlier
treaty delivered C hristian provinces from T urkish rule and m arked the end
of O ttom an expansion westw ard. T he later treaty for the first tim e tore a
M oslem province from the O ttom an E m pire and, more im portant, established
the diplom atic basis for future foreign intervention in the internal affairs of
the em pire. T hus a distinguished jurist has asserted th at all the treaties ex
ecuted by T urkey and R ussia during the following half century were but
com m entaries on the K uchuk K ainarji text.
F o r the sake of convenience the provisions of the treaty m ay be di
vided into three categories, territorial, com m ercial, and religious. T he R us
sians won several strategic enclaves along the north shore of the Black Sea.
T o the east they gained the p o rt of A zov, a p art of the province of K uban,
and the K erch Peninsula com m anding the strait betw een the A zov and Black
seas. T o the west the R ussians kept the great estuary form ed by the D nieper
and Bug as they en ter the sea, including the K inburn fortress at the m outh
of the form er river. T he T urks also surrendered the territories of the Crim ean
K han, but these were to form an independent state. B oth signatories agreed


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

not to interfere, u nder any pretext w hatever, with the election of the said
K han, or in the dom estic, political, civil, and internal affairs of the same. . .
Finally, R ussia restored the rem aining territories she had conquered, includ
ing the D anubian Principalities. But in retu rn T urkey guaranteed religious
freedom and hum ane and generous governm ent for the future, and also
agreed th a t according as the circum stances of these two Principalities may
require, the M inisters of the Im perial C ourt of Russia resident at C onstanti
nople m ay rem onstrate in their favor. . .
The com m ercial clauses of the treaty gave R ussia the right to appoint
consuls anyw here in the O ttom an lands, and allowed her subjects to navigate
freely in the B lack Sea and to trade in the O ttom an E m pire by land as well
as by w ater and upon the D anube . . . with the same privileges and advan
tages as are enjoyed . . . by the m ost friendly nations, whom the Sublime
Porte favors m ost in trade, such as the F rench and English. . . .
Finally, the provisions pertaining to religion gave to R ussia a prefer
ential right to protect O ttom an C hristians not conceded to any other foreign
power. T he crucial clause provided: T he Sublime Porte prom ises to protect
constantly the C hristian religion and its churches, and it also allows the M in
isters of the Im perial C o u rt of R ussia to m ake representations. . . . 10
T he results and im plications of this treaty were far-reaching. Turkey
had lost her form er undisputed control of the Black Sea. H er frontier in the
northeast was now the Bug River. It is true th at the Russians had won only
scattered outlets to the sea but these were all strategically im portant and pro
vided a springboard for future advances. T hey also surrounded the new and
nom inally independent C rim ean state which obviously could continue to exist
only on R ussian sufferance. M ore significant were the other provisions which
m ade R ussia the guaran to r of M oldavian and W allachian privileges and of
the religious freedom s of the O ttom an Christians. These clauses gave C ath
erine and h er successors a standing pretext for diplom atic intervention or for
m ilitary aggression. It is not surprising th at B aron T hugutt, the A ustrian en
voy in C onstantinople, appraised the treaty as a m odel of skill on the p art
of the R ussian diplom atists, and a rare exam ple of imbecility on the part of
the T urkish negotiators. H e added th a t the O ttom an E m pire becomes
henceforth a kind of R ussian province and he w arned his governm ent that
events now passing in this em pire will in the future exercise the greatest in
fluence on the policy of all the other States, and will give rise to endless
troubles. 11
C A T H E R IN E S SECO N D T U R K ISH w a r : 1 7 8 7 - 1 7 9 2

W ithin a few years the course of events fully justified the b aro n s
gloom y prediction. T he T urks were far from satisfied with the peace term s,
resenting particularly the loss of the Crim ean territories. M ore im portant was
the attitude of C atherine. She regarded the settlem ent as the beginning rather
than the consum m ation of Russian progress in Southeastern Europe. U nder
the inllucncc of the m asterful Prince Potem kin, who served her well as soldier,

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


statesm an, and lover, C atherine reverted to the O riental project propounded
half a century earlier by M arshal M unnich. Both she and her consort dream ed
of expelling the T urks from C onstantinople and of establishing in their place
a revived G reek em pire, oriented, naturally, tow ard St. Petersburg. It is not
w ithout significance th at her second grandson, born in 1779, was christened
Constantine, and that the m edal struck to com m em orate his birth showed
on the one side the church of St. Sophia in C onstantinople and on the other
the Black Sea with a rising star above.
C atherine realized th at she could not reach her goal w ithout the sup
port of another great power. She also realized that Prussia would never be
th at power. Frederick had made it clear during the preceding w ar th at he had
no intention of helping C atherine to expand in a region where he himself had
no hope of com pensation. C atherine therefore turned to A ustria, encouraged
by the death in 1780 of the old em press, M aria T heresa. T he following year
C atherine concluded an alliance with the new H apsburg ruler, Joseph II.
They agreed to aid one another in case of w ar and they also agreed th at if
either signatory acquired territory the other was entitled to corresponding
com pensation.
D uring the year 1782 C atherine set forth in her letters to Joseph the
details of her G rand P lan against the T urks. Joseph was am enable, less out
of enthusiasm for the plan than out of a com pelling need to have Russia by
his side against Prussia. Ju st as M aria T heresa had agreed reluctantly to the
partition of Poland, so Joseph now reluctantly agreed to the partition of
Turkey. By the end of the year the tw o rulers had settled the m ain points of
their extraordinary project. Russia was to acquire the western Caucasus, the
C rim ea, and the lands to the D niester River. M oldavia and W allachia were to
form the independent state of Dacia, designed to serve as a buffer between
Russia and A ustria. Joseph was to round out his em pire by obtaining parts
of W allachia, Serbia, Bosnia, H erzegovina, and the V enetian provinces of
Istria and D alm atia. T he rem aining territory in the B alkans th a t is, B ul
garia, M acedonia, and G reece was to constitute the revived G reek em pire
with C onstantinople as its capital and with C atherines grandson C onstantine
as its em peror. T o reassure Joseph, C atherine agreed th at C onstantine should
renounce all pretensions to the throne of Russia since the two crowns m ust
not and should not be allow ed to be placed on the same h ead . 12
Fortified by the A ustrian alliance, C atherine proceeded tow ard the
realization of the G ran d Plan. She began in the C rim ea w here, in com plete
violation of her pledges at Kuchuk K ainarji, she applied the same tactics that
had proved successful in Poland. She encouraged a revolt against the reign
ing khan and installed in his place a pretender who faithfully executed her
orders. W hen the T a ta r population rose in protest she proclaim ed the annexa
tion of the country with professions of acting only to deliver its people from
m isgovernm ent. This highhanded robbery excited the greatest indignation in
C onstantinople. B ut the T urks received no support from any quarter. Even
F rance advised acceptance of the fait accompli. T he inevitable outcom e was


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

the T reaty of C onstantinople (1 7 8 3 ) ceding to R ussia the C rim ean Penin

sula with the neighboring K uban area and the T am an Peninsula.
C atherine appointed P otem kin the governor of the newly acquired
territories. W ith an energy and vision rem iniscent of P eter the G reat, he threw
him self into the task of colonization and fortification. H e subdued the wilder
elem ents am ong the Cossacks and T atars and th en brought in settlers from
G erm any and A ustria as well as from the rest of Russia. W ith the assistance
of num erous foreign experts, he founded cities, established industries, and
built the great naval bases, Sebastopol and N ikolaev. By 1787 he was ready
to display to his mistress and to the rest of the world the results of his work.
A ccom panied by a magnificent court, including the envoys of France, E ng
land, and A ustria, C atherine em barked on the D nieper. A fleet of galleys
escorted her to K herson, at the m outh, w here she passed under a trium phal
arch bearing the inscription T he W ay to B yzantium . The clim ax cam e at
Sebastopol when C atherine and E m peror Joseph were dining in a splendid
new palace. A t a signal from Potem kin the curtains were pulled back from
the windows, revealing a magnificent view of the bay with a fleet of forty
m en-of-w ar in battle form ation firing a roaring salute to C atherine.
T he m eaning of this display was not lost on the T urks. Sebastopol
was within two days sail of C onstantinople. R ussian agents were busy stir
ring up discontent throughout the B alkans and even in distant Egypt. The
last straw was a new Russian ultim atum dem anding the surrender of G eorgia
and B essarabia and the appointm ent of hereditary governors in M oldavia
and W allachia. By this tim e the W estern pow ers had abandoned their form er
indifference. W ith the encouragem ent of E ngland and Prussia, the sultan pre
sented a counterultim atum for the restitution of the Crim ea and the evacua
tion of Georgia. O n C atherines refusal he declared w ar on A ugust 15, 1787.
E arly the following year Joseph entered the w ar in accordance with his treaty
T he allies had plannned to coordinate a R ussian invasion of M ol
davia with an A ustrian offensive down the D anube. B ut an unexpected Swe
dish attack in the n o rth prevented C atherine from fulfilling her engagem ent.
A t the sam e tim e E m peror Joseph foolishly assum ed personal com m and of
his arm y and proved so incom petent th a t he suffered a crushing defeat in
1788. T he only notable allied victory th a t year was Suvorovs successful as
sault upon O chakov, the key T urkish fortress near the m outh of the Bug
R iver. In 1789 the allies finally h it their stride. A rejuvenated A ustrian army
under a new com m ander overran m ost of B osnia and Serbia. Suvorov was
equally successful in the D anubian Principalities. W ith som e A ustrian sup
po rt he defeated two large T urkish arm ies in quick succession. Panic reigned
in C onstantinople. T he A ustrians were ready to cross the D anube into

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792

TR EA TY O F s i s t o v a :



The diplom atic situation at this point resem bled th a t of 1771, w hen
the R ussian victories aroused the hostility of A ustria and Prussia and cul
m inated in the first Polish partition. T he com bined A ustrian-R ussian victories
now caused equal apprehension in certain E uropean capitals. France was
unexpectedly indifferent. H er foreign m inister, V ergennes, was so determ ined
to aid com m erce and to avoid w ar th a t he rationalized to his satisfaction the
abondonm ent of the T urkish b arb arian s. B ut Prussia still opposed Turkish
partition as resolutely as in the tim e of Frederick the G reat, and for the
same reason. P artition would strengthen Russia and A ustria enorm ously
w ithout com pensation for herself. In 1788 Prussia joined B ritain and H ol
land in a T riple Alliance which aim ed prim arily to keep France out of Bel
gium b u t which also sought to check R ussia and A ustria in the Balkans.
Such was the international situation when Joseph II died in F e b ru
ary, 1790. His b ro th er and successor, L eopold II, had no desire to continue
the w ar against T urkey. He did not trust C atherine; he faced a revolt in
H ungary; and he feared a Prussian attack if his armies advanced closer to
C onstantinople. A ccordingly, he concluded the C onvention of Reichenbach
with Prussia (July 27, 1790) by which he agreed to accept a peace with
T urkey based on the prew ar status quo. T he peace was form alized a year
later with the signing of the T reaty of Sistova on A ugust 4, 1791. These de
velopm ents had far-reaching consequences for E urope as well as for the Bal
kans. They not only eased the pressure on T urkey but they also ended the
A ustrian-R ussian alliance and p repared the way for a new E uropean coali
tion directed against Revolutionary France.
t r e a t y o f ja s s y :


The desertion of A ustria was a serious blow for C atherine. She was
left alone to carry on the w ar against T urkey and Sweden and to face the
diplom atic m aneuvering of the hostile T riple Alliance. C atherine rose to the
occasion w ith courage and resourcefulness. First she persuaded G ustavus III
of Sweden to accept the W ereloe T reaty (A ugust 15, 1790) restoring the
prew ar frontiers. T hen she turned full force against the T urks to win a de
cision before the oth er pow ers could intervene. M arshal Suvorov, as usual,
presented h er with the m ost telling argum ents of diplom acy. In D ecem ber,
1790, he successfully storm ed Ism ail, the strong T urkish fortress near the
m outh of the D anube. A t the same tim e the G reeks m ade a considerable di
version on the T urkish rear despite their unfortunate experience with O rlov
during the previous w ar. They organized scattered revolts in the m ountainous
areas of their country and they also outfitted a fleet of privateers which op
erated actively in the A egean throughout the war.
Fortified by these successes, C atherine haughtily ignored the dem and
of the T riple A lliance pow ers th at she follow the exam ple of Leopold and re
store her conquests to the T urks. Instead, she inform ed the king of Prussia


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

th at she would m ake w ar and peace as she pleased and th at she would not
tolerate any interference in the conduct of her affairs. She also let it be known,
however, th at she would accept a settlem ent that left her in possession of the
territory to the D niester River.
T his offer precipitated a significant and revealing debate in the B rit
ish Parliam ent. D uring C atherines first w ar with Turkey, B ritain supported
R ussia because of certain econom ic and strategic factors already noted. N ow
the younger Pitt was in office, and he was the first British statesm an to per
ceive and to state publicly that continued Russian expansion at the expense
of T urkey was contrary to British interests. In order to check C atherine he
proposed to cooperate closely with Prussia and to turn to P oland for the
grain and tim ber supplies hitherto obtained from Russia. O n M arch 27, 1791,
he sent to Berlin the draft of a joint ultim atum to be presented to C atherine
and dem anding the restoration of the conquered territories. T he following day
he subm itted to P arliam ent a bill for some further augm entation of the
naval forces in view of the failure to effect a pacification between R ussia
and the P o rte . T he bill passed both H ouses by substantial m ajorities. B ut
m ore significant was the tone of the debate and the reaction of public opinion.
T he argum ents presented on both sides were to be heard again and
again throughout the nineteenth century as the clash of British and Russian
im perial interests assum ed world-wide proportions. Edm und Burke fore
shadow ed G ladstone in denouncing a policy th at allied E ngland with the
destructive savages who had condem ned those charm ing countries which
bord er upon the D anube, to devastation and pestilence. 13 O ther speakers
w arned, in the m anner of Disraeli, that the fall of C onstantinople would be
followed by th at of Egypt, and where [Russian] victories would afterw ards
end G od alone could tell. 14 T he debates, both in Parliam ent and in the
country, indicated th at public opinion was not prepared to sacrifice the flour
ishing Russian trade and to em bark upon a hazardous w ar for the sake of a
distant and dubious danger.
P itt wisely decided that an aggressive foreign policy was im practical
with the country so divided. H e sent a special m essenger to Berlin to forestall
the presentation of the ultim atum . T he sequel followed naturally and quickly.
W ithout prospect of assistance from any quarter, the T urks were ready to
com e to term s. C atherine, on her part, was equally willing, especially since
P oland required her attention. By the T reaty of Jassy (Jan u ary 9, 1792) she
retained the territory to the D niester R iver and surrendered her conquests
farther to the west.
It is not irrelevant to add that im m ediately after this settlem ent C ath
erine turned upon the unfortunate Poles. They had taken advantage!- of the
T urkish w ar to conclude an anti-R ussian p act with Prussia and to launch an
im pressive reform program for the rejuvenation of their country. B ut the
course of international events doom ed their efforts to failure. W ith the T u rk
ish w ar ended and with the F rench R evolution engaging the attention of the
o th er pow ers, C atherine was able to reassert her authority. T he second and

Defeat by Russia: Recession to the Dniester: 1699-1792


third partitions of 1793 and 1795 spelled the end of P oland as an independ
ent state.
T he T reaty of Jassy is a turning point in N ear E astern history. It
m arks the advent of Russia as a great N ear E astern power. W hen C atherine
cam e to the throne the Black Sea was a T urkish lake. Before she died it had
becom e a R ussian-dom inated lake. Its n orthern shore was ringed by great
naval arsenals Sebastopol, K herson, and N ikolaev. H itherto the issue had
been w hether Russia should enter the B lack Sea. H enceforth it was w hether
she should advance to the M editerranean.
T he T reaty of Jassy is also a turning point in B alkan history. It sig
nified that the B alkans were not to becom e another Poland. This assuredly
would have been their fate if C atherine and Joseph had carried through their
G rand Plan. Ju st as the three partitions divided Poland am ong Prussia, Rus
sia, and A ustria, so the G rand Plan would have divided the B alkan Peninsula
between Russia and A ustria.
V arious factors explain C atherines failure in the Balkans in contrast
to her success in Poland. O ne was the role of geography. Russia and her
allies could m arch directly and without hindrance into the heart of Poland.
But in the case of T urkey they first had to overrun a vast and strongly forti
fied interm ediate area the C rim ea, the southern U kraine, and the D anubian
Principalities before reaching the Balkan ranges protecting C onstantinople.
A nother factor was diplom atic. T he partition of Poland was favored usually
by Prussia and Russia and accepted by A ustria. T he partition of Turkey was
favored usually by R ussia alone and rarely accepted by either A ustria or
These factors help to explain the failure of the G rand Plan. T he fact
that it did fail determ ined the course of future B alkan history. Instead of
facing the com bined might of the H apsburg and T sarist em pires, the Balkan
peoples suffered only an ineffective and w eakening O ttom an rule. O ne after
another they won their independence during the nineteenth century, while the
Poles rem ained shackled until W orld W ar I.

1 2 .

T h e

B a lk a n s,

a n d

N a p o le o n :

th e F re n c h

R e v o lu tio n ,

1 7 9 2 -1 8 1 5

J . H E t u r k s enjoyed six years of peace after their wars

with C atherine. R ussia and the other pow ers were too involved in the Polish
partitions and in the problem s created by the F rench Revolution to under
take new ventures in S outheastern E urope. This respite was fully appreciated
by the harassed T urks. T he following entry in the journal of Sultan Selims
privy secretary reflects the attitude of O tto m an officials at this tim e tow ard
the tu rbulent events in E uro p e: M ay G od cause the upheaval in F rance to
spread like syphilis to the enemies of the E m pire, hurl them into prolonged
conflict with one another, and thus accom plish results beneficial to the E m
pire, am en. 1
T he upheaval in F rance did spread as the T urks wished, but in the
process they them selves w ere involved as well as their B alkan subjects. As
early as 1797, by the T reaty of C am po Form io, the F rench acquired the
Ionian Islands from V enice while the rem aining V enetian possessions along
the A driatic coast w ent to A ustria. This transfer of B alkan territory did not
involve the T urks directly. B ut next year, in July, 1798, news arrived in
C onstantinople of N apoleons descent upon Egypt. N ow the period of peace
was over. D uring the following years the T urks floundered around in a great
side-eddy which changed according to the direction of the m ain current of
the C ontinental wars. F rom 1798 until 1802 the T urks were allied with E ng
land and R ussia against France. In the process the Russians replaced the
F rench in the Ionian Islands and also gained a foothold in the D anubian
Principalities. A fter 1802 the T urks enjoyed another four years of peace until
N apoleon induced them to tu rn against their form er allies. F rom 1806 until
1812 the T urks waged a desultory w ar against the English and the Russians.
T he B alkans now were affected directly because m ost of the fighting was
conducted in the peninsula and in the Ionian Islands. W hen peace finally was
restored by the 1812 B ucharest T reaty and by the 1815 V ienna settlem ent,


The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 1792-1815


the great pow ers acquired certain outlying b order territories. D alm atia went
to A ustria, B essarabia to Russia, and the Ionian Islands to Britain.
M ore im portant than the territorial change was the political and
ideological im pact of the F rench R evolution and of N apoleon upon the Bal
kans. T he precise natu re and extent of this im pact cannot be m easured, but
there is no doubt th a t F rench R evolutionary ideology, the stirring events of
the R evolution itself, the m agnetic personality and tradition-shattering ca
reer of N apoleon, and the experiences of a considerable num ber of B alkan
soldiers serving in foreign arm ies during these years all these left a definite
im print upon the B alkan scene. C ertainly the B alkan Peninsula of 1815 was
quite different from th a t which had existed only a generation earlier when the
R ussian wars ended.
T he first concrete im pact of the F rench R evolution upon the B al
kans cam e with the signing of the C am po Form io T reaty (1 7 9 7 ) following
N apoleons Italian cam paign. France and A ustria divided the V enetian pos
sessions, A ustria obtaining D alm atia, and F rance the Ionian Islands with the
adjoining m ainland. T he F rench held the islands for only a few years from
1797 to 1799 and then again from 1807 to 1814. Y et their rule had a con
vulsive effect upon the ancien rgime type of society th at prevailed. As we
saw in C hapter 7, the Ionian Islands differed from the other G reek lands in
th at they did not fall under T urkish rule. Instead, they belonged to Venice for
over four centuries, from 1386 to 1797. D uring this period they enjoyed a
considerable degree of autonom y. V enice contented itself with the exercise
of general control through its appointed agents: a governor gen eral'w ith a
three-year term , a governor for each of the islands, a grand judge, and three
inquisitors sent out periodically to investigate conditions and report on the
conduct of all public officials. T he actual rulers of the islands were the native
aristocracy, whose lands and privileges had been recognized by Venice and
who in turn supported V enetian rule. T hus Ionian society, unlike th at of the
G reek m ainland, was highly stratified. In fact, the aristocratic families were
registered in a G olden B ook like th at in which their counterparts in Venice
were registered.
The F rench underm ined this regime by introducing sweeping reform s
in their custom ary m anner. They burned the G olden Book, decreed the aboli
tion of feudalism , dem ocratized governm ent, freed the peasantry from com
pulsory lab o r in the governm ent salt works, reorganized civil and crim inal
justice, and extended educational facilities. T he im pact of these m easures is
reflected in the following rep o rt of th e local English consul following the
expulsion of the F rench:
I cannot but mention that the attempts of the French to poison the
minds of the Peasants of Corfu, were not altogether unsuccessful. Indeed, so
multifarious were the arts of the republicans, so great was the encouragement


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

they gave to the description of people in question, that one cannot but feel that
the Peasants must previously have had the strongest aversion to the French, not
to have totally yielded to their seduction. . . . It affords me particular satisfaction
to be able to close this account with a few words on the subject of the attachment
of the highest orders of the inhabitants of all these Islands, to the English Nation.
This attachment is the result of observation and enquiry; it is the more particularly
flattering, as it is the more vigorous in the most wealthy, the most judicious, and
the best informed.2
F rench rule in the Ionian Islands ended paradoxically as a conse
quence of N apoleons invasion of Egypt. T he D irectory in Paris decided to
strike at Egypt after deciding th a t a cross-channel invasion of B ritain was too
risky. It instructed N apoleon to take possession of Egypt, drive the English
out of the Levant, cut a canal through the Isthm us of Suez, and at the same
tim e m aintain friendly relations with the T urks.
T he fate of the expedition is well known. N apoleon set sail from
Toulon, eluded N elsons fleet through sheer luck, and landed at A lexandria
late in June, 1798. A few weeks later he routed the M am eluke rulers of
Egypt at the B attle of the Pyram ids. B ut on A ugust 1 N elson discovered and
destroyed the French lleet at A boukir Bay. T he expedition was doom ed, re
gardless of how m any victories N apoleon m ight win on land. T o m ake m at
ters worse, the O ttom an sultan, Selim 111, the nom inal sovereign of Egypt,
was em boldened by N elsons victory to declare w ar against France on Sep
tem ber 1. N apoleon replied with custom ary audacity by invading Syria. He
took by assault E l A rish, G aza, and Jaffa, and laid siege to A cre in M arch,
1799. W ith the assistance of an English fleet the defenders repulsed the
F rench attacks. N apoleon reluctantly gave up his plan of taking C onstanti
nople from the east and retreated to Egypt. T here he defeated a T urkish
arm y th at had been tran sp o rted by English ships. T he victory was unavail
ing. So long as N elson controlled the M ed iterranean the F rench rem ained
prisoners in Egypt.
News from France convinced N apoleon that his future lay in Paris
rath er than in the land of the Nile. W ith great secrecy he left A lexandria in
a sm all sloop and successfully ran the English blockade, landing at Frejus
on O ctober 9, 1799. Precisely a m onth later he was the first consul of France.
A nd tw o years later the arm y th a t he had left behind in E gypt surrendered
to the English.
N apoleons expedition h ad lasting effects throughout the N e ir E ast
despite its ultim ate failure. In E gypt it w eakened the position of the a rro
gant M am eluke w arriors, who hitherto h ad m ercilessly exploited the country.
In their place appeared M ehem et Ali, an unscrupulous but extraordinarily
capable A lbanian adventurer. A fter making himself absolute m aster of Egypt
he proceeded to extend his authority to the Sudan, A rabia, Crete, and Syria.

The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 17921815


He built up his m ilitary establishm ent to the point where it far surpassed th at
of his nom inal overlord in C onstantinople. D uring the eighteen thirties, as
we shall note in C h ap ter 16, M ehem et A li was the central figure in a series
of crises th at convulsed the N ear E a st and alm ost precipitated a general
E uropean war.
T he E gyptian expedition also h ad repercussions in the Balkans. It
enabled the R ussians to strengthen their position in two strategic regions, the
Ionian Islands and the D anubian Principalities. W hen Selim declared w ar on
France in 1798, the R ussians, together with the English, rallied to his sup
port. T he R ussians first persuaded the sultan to sign the T reaty of C onstanti
nople (Jan u ary 3, 1 7 9 9 ), perm itting passage of their w arships through the
Straits. T hen they sent a part of their Black Sea fleet to join the British at
A lexandria, while the rem ainder proceeded with the T urkish fleet against the
French-held Ionian Islands. By M arch, 1799, all these islands had passed
under R ussian-Turkish control, while the m ainland dependencies, which had
been lightly garrisoned by the French, had fallen to the attacks of the A l
banian chieftain, Ali Pasha.
T he R ussian invaders were aided by the fact th at the French occu
pation had lost its glam our with the local population. This was due partly
to the anti-French propaganda of the aristocratic elem ents, which were aided
in their efforts by the church. Also, it had becom e apparent th at the French
were m ore concerned with their own strategic interests th an with the free
dom of the islanders. These interests were stressed by N apoleon in a letter to
the D irectory: T he islands of C orfu, Zante and C ephalonia, he wrote, are
of m ore im portance for us than all of Italy. . . . T he Turkish E m pire is
crum bling day by day. T he possession of the islands will enable us to sup
port it [the Em pire] as long as that proves possible, or to take our part of it. 3
W ith the expulsion of the French, the Russians and the T urks signed
a convention providing th at the dependencies be ceded to T urkey and th at
the Ionian Islands p roper be organized as the Septinsular Republic. This re
public constituted the first autonom ous G reek state of m odern times. T he
transition from F rench to Russian rule was not w ithout its com plications.
O n O ctober 3, 1799, the local British consul reported:

A disturbance lately took place at Zante in consequence of a change

made in the internal Government of the Country by a Russian Officer who has
been charged to organize the affairs of these Islands. The change in question was
in favour of the nobility, who, since the expulsion of the French, had only had
an equal share in the Government with those of the inferior Classes. As, then,
this change throws all the Government into the hands of the nobility, those of
the other Classes became tumultuous, but nothing material happened, and tran
quillity was perfectly restored, by the imprisonment of three or four of the
Leaders, one of whom has been sentenced to be shot.4
W hen the R ussian troops departed, the islanders proceeded to draft
a constitution that reflected the egalitarian im pact of the few years of French


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

rule. T his constitution of 1801 proclaim ed in its pream ble th at natural rights
confer perfect equality, and hence equal right to participate in prep ar
ing a social co n tract and electing representatives. T he provisions of the
constitution were som ew hat less daring, apparently being designed to mollify
the aristocracy. U niversal suffrage was com bined with indirect election, and
eligibility to the Executive C ouncil was restricted to the aristoi or landow ners
who had reached their thirtieth year. T hese concessions failed to win the
cooperation of the aristocracy, with the result th at the constitution rem ained
a dead letter. A m ore conservative constitution was adopted in 1803. By vari
ous devices it lim ited participation and representation in governm ent to a
sm all percentage of the population. T he oligarchical features of the V enetian
regime were to a great extent revived, with the difference th at privilege now
was based on property rath er than on birth qualifications. The constitution
rem ained the law of the land until the French reoccupied the islands in 1807
in accordance with the term s of the Tilsit A greem ent betw een N apoleon and
T sar A lexander. It is notew orthy th at John C apodistrias, who later won fame
as foreign m inister of R ussia and president of the new G reek state, played a
prom inent role in the drafting of this constitution.
M eanw hile, the Russians had also exploited their new friendship with
the sultan to win im portant concessions in the D anubian Principalities. T he
T reaty of K uchuk K ainarji (1 7 7 4 ) had given the R ussian am bassador in
C onstantinople the right to rem onstrate in behalf of the R um anian inhabit
ants of the Principalities. Now in 1802 the sultan granted more specific con
cessions. H enceforth no hospodar might be dispossessed w ithout the express
consent of Russia, and no T urks, unless they were m erchants, which was
extrem ely rare, were to be allowed to en ter either principality. It is not sur
prising th at future hospodars show ed as m uch deference to the tsar as to
their sultan. R ussian infience rem ained predom inant in the Principalities d u r
ing the next half century until it was sm ashed by force of arm s during the
C rim ean W ar.
T he next developm ent th at affected the B alkans in the great C onti
nental struggle was the form ation of the T hird C oalition against N apoleon
and the entry of T urkey into the w ar on the side of N apoleon. B ritain and
F ran ce had signed the Peace of A m iens in M arch, 1802, b u t hostilities be
tw een the two pow ers broke out again in M ay, 1803. Tw o years later R ussia
and A ustria joined E ngland to form th e T h ird Coalition. T he w ar flow be
cam e continental in scope and the danger of T urkish involvem ent increased
T he neutrality of the O ttom an E m pire was m enaced not only by the
spreading conflict betw een N apoleon and the T hird Coalition but also by a
serious revolt am ong the Serbians of the Belgrade pashalik. U nder the leader

The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 1792-1815


ship of their form idable K arageorge or Black George, the Serbians rose in
protest against the local janissaries, who insolently defied the sultans author
ity and ruthlessly exploited Christians and M oslems alike. This Serbian revolt
is of prim e im portance in the history of the South Slavs and of the entire
Balkan Peninsula, and will be considered in detail in C hapter 14. A t this
point, however, we shall refer to it only insofar as it affected the international
position of the O ttom an Em pire.
During the course of their struggle the Serbian rebels appealed to
A ustria and to Russia for assistance. T he two powers reacted according to
the exigencies of the great w ar against N apoleon. A ustria favored a speedy
settlem ent of the Serbian insurrection because she was exhausted after the
disastrous defeats at Ulm and A usterlitz (O ctober and D ecem ber, 1805) and
dared not risk another war. E ngland also opposed any assistance to the
Serbian rebels for fear th at it might drive the T urks into N apoleons cam p.
She wished above all else to preserve the Russian-Turkish-British bloc th at
had proved successful against N apoleon when he invaded E gypt a few years
earlier. Russia also favored the continuation of this bloc, but she had to
take into account her interests in the B alkans that pulled her in the opposite
direction. If she ignored the Serbian appeals for the sake of Turkish friend
ship she ran the risk of alienating the Serbians and forcing them to turn to
N apoleon. This contradiction in R ussias position explains her am bivalent
policy. She did not oppose the insurrection but neither did she support it
outright. Instead, she secretly gave a little financial assistance and at the same
time she urged the O ttom an governm ent to reach some settlem ent with the
This diplom atic situation changed drastically in the second half of
1806 under the im pact of N apoleons victories in C entral E urope and his
diplom atic offensive in C onstantinople. A fter Ulm and A usterlitz, N apoleon
com pelled A ustria to sign the T reaty of Pressburg (D ecem ber 26, 18 0 5 ),
giving him V enetia, Istria, and D alm atia. W ith these cessions N apoleon
gained m astery of the A driatic and a foothold in the Balkans. T he next year
he forced Prussia out of the war, following his victories at Jena and A uerstadt.
O nly E ngland and Russia rem ained, and as a part of his cam paign against
them he set out to win Turkey to his side.
In the sum m er of 1806 he sent the capable and persuasive G eneral
Sebastiani to C onstantinople with instructions to persuade the sultan to cancel
the treaties granting special privileges to the R ussians. T he m ost im portant
were the 1799 treaty perm itting the Russians to send their w arships through
the Straits, and the 1802 treaty giving Russia a voice in the tenure of the
D anubian hospodars. N apoleon also sent flattering personal letters to the
sultan, addressing him as the very high, very excellent, very powerful, very
m agnanim ous, and invincible Prince, great E m p ero r of the M oslems, Sultan
Selim. H e assured the sultan th at nothing was closer to his heart than the
glory and the well-being of the O ttom an E m pire. I have the will to save it,
and 1 put my victories at o u r com m on disposal. 5


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

Selim was im pressed by the dazzling prospect pictured by N apoleon

and Sbastiani. A lready N apoleon had undone part of C atherines w ork by
driving the Russians out of Poland. M ight not the U kraine and the Crim ea
also be recovered by victorious French and Turkish armies fighting side by
side? W ith this vision before him Selim proceeded on the course urged by his
new friends. H e dismissed the pro-R ussian hospodars in the D anubian P rin
cipalities; he reasserted his sovereignty over the Ionian Islands; and he closed
the Straits to foreign w arships all these m easures violating specific treaty
obligations. R ussia replied in N ovem ber, 1806, by sending an arm y into the
D anubian Principalities. T he next m onth Selim declared war on Russia to
avenge the outraged national ho n o r. A t the same time he dispatched an
em issary to N apoleon with instructions to conclude an alliance guaranteeing
the recovery of the n orthern shore of the Black Sea. T he alliance was never
signed. During the following m onths the T urks learned to their cost the u n
reliability of great pow ers engaged in great wars.
Sultan Selims decision to enter the w ar on the side of N apoleon pro
duced an im m ediate reaction on the p art of every great power involved in
the N ear East. Britain assaulted the O ttom an E m pire from the south by sea,
Russia attacked from the north by land, while N apoleons envoys in C on
stantinople w orked feverishly to bolster the decrepit Turkish defenses.
B ritain used her navy to launch a tw o-pronged offensive one against
the vital D ardanelles passageway leading to C onstantinople and the other
against Egypt. This D ardanelles expedition of 1807 had m any resem blances
to that of 1915. Both expeditions were designed to aid the Russian ally and
both eventually failed after com ing within a hairbreadth of success. An im
p o rtan t factor in the failure of this early expedition was the division of au
thority betw een the naval com m ander, V ice-A dm iral Sir John D uckw orth,
and the diplom atic representative, A m bassador C harles A rbuthnot. On F eb
ruary 20, 1807, D uckw orth appeared before C onstantinople after fighting
his way through the D ardanelles. T he defenses of the city were in ruinous
condition and the panicky T urks were disposed to accept alm ost any de
m ands. But D uckw orth had instructions to refer political questions to A m
bassador A rbuthnot. T he latter was in p oor health and allowed the Turks
to drag out the negotiations while French engineers under the direction of
G eneral Sbastiani hastily strengthened the defenses of the capital. W ithin
a fortnight D uckw orths position h ad becom e m ilitarily untenable. T he sur
rounding Turkish fortifications increasingly threatened his ships and he lacked
an adequate landing force to take decisive retaliatory action. D uckw orth had
no alternative but to w ithdraw . A fter sustaining considerable losses he re
passed the D ardanelles on M arch 3, 1807.
A few weeks later G eneral M ackenzie F razer landed a force in Egypt
and occupied the p o rt of A lexandria. B ut E gypt was now in the capable hands
of M ehem et Ali. By a com bination of th reats and prom ises he successfully
kept in check the M am eluke chieftains, who inclined tow ard the English in

The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 17921815


vaders. F razer found him self isolated in A lexandria with his original small
contingent of British troops. H e failed twice to take nearby R osetta, where
he had hoped to find m uch-needed provisions. W ith supplies running short
and with Turkish reinforcem ents pouring into Egypt, F razer evacuated A lex
andria in Septem ber, 1807, after considerable loss of both m en and reputa
tion. F rom then on the British-Turkish w ar rem ained unfought.
Meanwhile the Russians in the north had been preparing land opera
tions. T heir strategy was to organize an anti-T urkish front stretching from
the D anubian Principalities to the Ionian Islands, both of which areas they
still occupied. The vital link necessary to join the two extrem ities could be
provided only by the Serbians, who already were in the field under K arageorge. A ccordingly the Russians now becam e warmly cordial to the Serbians
and proposed close m ilitary cooperation. But at the same tim e the T urks also
began to woo the Serbs in order to keep them out of the Russian cam p. L ate
in 1806 the O ttom an governm ent announced th at it was willing to concede
political autonom y to its Serbian subjects.
Karageorge now had to choose between autonom y under the sultan
and cooperation with the tsar. T he latter alternative did not please him alto
gether. C ertain aspects of the Russian offer sm acked m ore of incorporation
than cooperation. In the end, K arageorge sided with the Russians, partly be
cause he feared a Franco-T urkish attack from Bosnia and partly because he
suspected that his rival, Milosh O brenovich, would welcome the Russians
if he failed to do so. A form al agreem ent was signed on July 10, 1807. A c
cording to its term s the Serbian people solicited the protection of the tsar,
who was to appoint a governor and certain high officials to organize an ad
m inistrative system in the country. Russian garrisons were to occupy local
fortresses, and Serbian troops were to be incorporated in the Russian armies
and were to be used not only for local defense but also for operations against
the T urks and the French in the Balkans. In return the Russians undertook
to provide the Serbs with money, m unitions, artillery, a m edical staff, and a
m ilitary mission.
T he sultan countered the Russian strategy by seeking to enlist and
to coordinate the forces of the powerful and virtually independent B alkan
pashas Ali in A lbania, Krousseref M ehem et in Bosnia, and O sm an PasvanOglu, and M ustafa in n orthern Bulgaria. N apoleon aided the sultan by send
ing special agents and m ilitary advisers to each of these local potentates and
by dispatching a force of five hundred artillerym en from D alm atia to C on
stantinople. T he pashas w ere willing to cooperate, not out of loyalty to the
sultan, b u t rath er because they saw possibilities of personal aggrandizem ent.
A li attacked the R ussians in the Ionian Islands while K rousseref harassed the
Serbians from the west. T he regular T urkish arm y, supported by M ustafa,
delivered the m ain attack against the R ussians in the Principalities. T he latter
operation proceeded w ith considerable success. By June, 1807, the Russians
'had retreated to B ucharest and were preparing for a siege.


Age of Ottoman Decline: 15661815

A m onth later news arrived th a t a revolution had broken out in C on

stantinople and th at Sultan Selim III h ad been deposed.* This im m ediately
paralyzed operations. T he janissaries refused to continue the cam paign. M us
tafa and the oth er pashas were anxious about their relations with the new
regim e and retired to their respective dom ains. Thus the T urks abandoned
the cam paign at the m om ent w hen they appeared likely to drive the Russians
out of the Principalities.
In the sam e m onth July, 1807 another event occurred th a t was
to have even greater repercussions th a n the revolution in C onstantinople.
N apoleon m et T sar A lexander at Tilsit and concluded an agreem ent th a t left
the u n fortunate T urks alone against the R ussians.

Before considering the Tilsit agreem ent we turn to the A driatic Coast,
w here F rench occupation was m aking a significant im pression. V enice had
been the dom inant pow er in D alm atia since the beginning of the fifteenth
century, gaining possession of all the coastal cities except R agusa or D ubrov
nik. T he latter city becam e V enices chief com petitor in the A driatic and
the Balkans. T he D alm atian hinterland was held at various times by Serbian,
B osnian, C roatian, and later H ungaro-C roatian rulers. A new era began with
the T urkish conquest of D alm atia, com pleted in 1537. In return for paying
tribute, R agusa rem ained unm olested during this period of Turkish rule.
W ith the defeat of the T urks at the hands of the H oly League, D alm atia
passed to V enice by the term s of the K arlow itz T reaty of 1699. D alm atia re
m ained und er V enice until N apoleon destroyed the Italian republic and di
vided its possessions with A ustria (C am po F orm io T reaty 1 7 9 7 ). D alm atia
thus cam e under H apsburg rule, which lasted until N apoleon intervened and
established himself along the A driatic C oast. By the T reaties of Pressburg
(1 8 0 4 ) and Schoenbrunn (1 8 0 9 ), N apoleon acquired first D alm atia (in
cluding the R agusan R e p u b lic ), and then Slovenia, Istria, and Trieste, and
parts of C roatia. These territories were com bined to form the Illyrian
Provinces, which were incorporated as an integral p a rt of the French Em pire.
F rench policy was as revolutionary in the Illyrian Provinces as in the
Ionian Islands, particularly since there was the sam e background of aristo
cratic V enetian rule in the two regions. T he F rench adm inistrators, headed
by M arshal M arm ont and V. D andolo, freed the serfs and gave them the
land th at they had tilled. They introduced the C ode N apolon in place of the
outw orn m edieval codes. They undertook reafforestation, land reclam ation,
and various public health m easures. Also, they built splendid roads, reform ed
the old guild system, and enforced strict decrees against usury. T here is
n ot a city, declared M arm ont, not a village which I have not visited, not a
m ountain whose nam e I do not know . 0
* F or domestic developments under Selim, see C hapter 13.

The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 17921815


D espite these reform s, there was m uch dissatisfaction with F rench

rule in the later years. O ne reason was the sweeping conscription m easures
th at the F rench applied in o rder to obtain m anpow er for their arm ies. Also,
the highly centralized adm inistration antagonized the D alm atians, who re
sented being m anaged from Paris as though they were N orm ans or Bretons.
Finally, the trade of the area, which was vital for its well-being, suffered
severely from the B ritish cruisers during the long years of A nglo-French w ar
fare. Thus there appears to have been little sorrow when A ustrian troops in
1814 drove the F rench out of the Provinces.
It is w orth noting th at the ancient Republic of R agusa disappeared
during the F rench regime, its existence was form ally ended by F rench decree
in January, 1808; thereafter R agusa was first a p art of the Illyrian Provinces
and then passed, with the rest of D alm atia, und er H apsburg rule. As im por
tant as the extinction of the republic was the inexorable and fatal decline of
its trade. T he departure of the F rench did not revive com m erce, and R agusa
never recovered h er form er prosperity. T he basic reason was th at B alkan
trade routes now were shifting, and leaving all the D alm atian towns stranded
on the periphery. Before the nineteenth century much of the trade between
the Balkans and C entral E urope flowed through the D alm atian ports. B ut
during the course of the nineteenth century new routes were opened with the
building of roads, railroads, and river boats in the B alkan countries. Now
goods could be transported back and forth along the new channels m ore eco
nom ically and expeditiously than by sending them over the m ountains to
the D alm atian Coast. T hus D alm atia entered a period of decline th at has
persisted to the present day.
M eanwhile, the balance in the Balkans and throughout E urope had
been drastically affected by the agreem ent reached by N apoleon and A lex
ander at Tilsit. N apoleon had persuaded Sultan Selim to com e to his side only
a few m onths earlier. B ut the French em peror from the outset had regarded
his Turkish ally as a convenient and expendable pawn. A T urkish attack on
the R ussian rear m ight prove a useful diversion while he him self delivered
the m ain thru st across the Polish plains. W hen he defeated the Russians de
cisively at F riedland on June 14, 1807, the T urks applauded enthusiastically.
They im agined th at the day was draw ing close when the star and the crescent
once m ore would be flying over the north ern shores of the Black Sea. In
reality N apoleons victory at F riedland was a disaster for the Turks. N ap o
leon no longer h ad need for a diversion and hence no longer had need for
the T urks. T sar A lexander now was willing to negotiate for peace and N apo
leon also was agreeable. If the tsar w ould abandon his E nglish alliance the
two em perors could divide the C ontinent betw een them . This was the essence
of the treaty they concluded at Tilsit on July 7, 1807.
The provisions referring to the N ear E ast stipulated th a t France
should recover the Ionian Islands and the adjacent territory on the m ainland.


Age of Ottoman Decline: 15661815

This was im m ediately im plem ented, so th at the French returned to the Ionian
Islands in the sum m er of 1807. B ut this second French regime proved as
brief as the first. British naval units captured five of the seven islands, leaving
only tw o th at rem ained French until the collapse of N apoleons em pire in
1814. T he Tilsit p act also provided th at France was to m ediate a peace set
tlem ent betw een R ussia and T urkey, and Russia likewise was to serve as
m ediator betw een F ran ce and England. If either or both of these projected
m ediations failed, the signatories were to render reciprocal m ilitary assist
ance. Finally, the treaty provided that if the R usso-T urkish w ar continued
the tw o powers will com e to an arrangem ent with each other to detach from
the yoke and vexations of the T urks all the provinces of the O ttom an E m
pire in E urope, the city of C onstantinople and the province of R um elia
excepted. 7
T he reference to O ttom an partitio n was purposefully vague. Alex
ander urged a m ore precise com m itm ent but N apoleon categorically refused.
O ne reason th at he gave was that if the em pire were partitioned in tim e of
w ar E ngland would be free to seize a m uch larger share of the spoils than
in tim e of peace. A no th er reason, and the one th at probably weighed more
heavily with N apoleon, was the problem of w hat to do with C onstantinople.
A lexander h ad aspirations to the O ttom an capital but N apoleon was unw ill
ing to concede th at prize. This is m ade clear in the testim ony of De M eneval,
one of N apoleons private secretaries who participated in the conference.
A ccording to his account, the tsar and the em peror on one occasion returned
from a w alk still deeply engaged in conversation. N apoleon asked for a m ap
of T urkey and then put his finger on C onstantinople. As if in reply to a
dem and, and heedless of the fact that De M eneval was listening, he shouted
heatedly to A lexander: C onstantinople, C onstantinople, never! T h a t is the
em pire of the w orld. 8
The Tilsit T reaty strikingly resem bles the 1939 G erm an-R ussian
N onagression Pact. B oth agreem ents were aim ed prim arily against B ritain;
both divided the C ontinent betw een the signatories; and both proved to be
of short duration. O ne of the principal factors contributing to the breakdow n
of the Tilsit A greem ent was the problem of O ttom an partition. N apoleon
sent C aulaincourt as am bassador to St. Petersburg with explicit instructions
th a t F rench interests required th at the O ttom an E m pire retain its existing
integrity. . . . !) A lexander rem inded C aulaincourt th at the Tilsit T reaty in
cluded a reference to the liberation of the B alkans from the yoke and vexa
tions of the T u rk s. C aulaincourt refused to be draw n into a discussion of
this m atter. T he basic difficulty was th a t the two em perors had quite different
objectives in mind. N apoleon was interested prim arily in obtaining Russian
support against B ritain. A lexander, in contrast, w anted N apoleon to approve
and to support the partitioning of the O ttom an Em pire.
A t one point N apoleon concocted a rather fantastic scheme in an
effort to work out a com m on plan of action. He authorized C aulaincourt to
discuss O ttom an partition if A lexander would agree to a joint Franco-R ussian

The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 1792-1815


expedition against the British in India. In a personal letter to the tsar, dated
F ebruary 2, 1808, N apoleon painted a glowing picture of the possibilities of
the proposed expedition. W ith the R ussians on the D anube and the French
in D alm atia, a com bined arm y could reach the Bosphorus in a m onth. A nd
by the tim e it arrived at the E uphrates, he prophesied, England would be
trem bling and on its knees before the contin en t. He adm itted th at the ex
pedition was intended m ore to scare the L ondon m erchants to accept peace
than actually to occupy India. 10
A lexander accepted N apoleons proposal, but when the division of
the O tto m an lands was considered in detail, the conflicting views on the
control of the Straits proved irreconcilable. C aulaincourt suggested a com
prom ise. Russia could take C onstantinople and the B osphorus, but France
must hold the D ardanelles entrance to the M editerranean. T he Russians re
fused this proposal. They dem anded possession of both ends of the Straits,
pointing out, logically enough, th at O ne w ithout the other is nothing. 11
In O ctober, 1808, N apoleon and A lexander met at E rfurt and re
newed the Tilsit alliance, with certain m odifications necessitated by the ac
tualities of the day. A lexander agreed to support F rench policy in the G erm anies while N apoleon sanctioned R ussias annexation of F inland from
Sweden. N apoleon also conceded W allachia and M oldavia to R ussia, and
even recognized the transfer as taking effect from this m om ent. F o r the
sake of preserving F rench prestige at C onstantinople, A lexander agreed to
try to gain the Principalities first by diplom atic means.
T he effects of the E rfu rt A greem ent were far-reaching. T he A ustrians
were particularly alarm ed by the p rospect of R ussian expansion to the
D anube. The only oth er great power interested in forestalling this eventuality
was Britain. A ccordingly the A ustrians used their influence to end the nom i
nal state of w ar that still prevailed between Britain and Turkey. This was
accom plished with the signing of the T reaty of D ardanelles on January 5,
1809, a treaty of particu lar interest in N ear E astern history because it con
tains the first form al assertion and acceptance of the principle th at the Straits
were to be closed to w arships of foreign pow ers in tim e of peace. Britain
undertook to respect th at ancient rule of the O ttom an E m pire, and in so
doing she anticipated the 1841 Straits C onvention which com m itted also the
other m ajor pow ers to this rule.
M eanw hile the Russians had form ally dem anded the D anubian Prin
cipalities and had been indignantly rejected. In the war th at ensued, the
prospect for successful T urkish resistance appeared rem ote. Sebastiani had
reported to Paris th at the Russian arm y on the D anube would reach C on
stantinople in eighteen days. T he estim ate seem ed reasonable. A narchy had
continued unabated in the O ttom an E m pire since the deposition of Selim the
previous year. R obert A dair, the B ritish diplom at who had negotiated the
D ardanelles T reaty, reported th at disorders were ram pant in the provinces;
th at the janissaries were the m asters of C onstantinople; and th at the O tto
m an E m pire may be said to be w ithout a governm ent. 12


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

D espite these w retched conditions, the T urks w ithstood the R ussian

attacks surprisingly well. O ne reason was the inefficiency and unprepared
ness of the R ussian generals. A nother was the deterioration of Franco-R ussian relations, which forced A lexander to keep his best divisions along the
w estern frontier. Thus the fighting swirled around the fortresses in the D anube
Valley rath er than in the B alkan m ountains or in the environs of C onstanti
T he B ritish governm ent now sought to take advantage of the w orsen
ing F ranco-R ussian relations to prom ote peace betw een R ussia and Turkey.
The opportune m om ent arrived in the early m onths of 1812. By th at tim e
both belligerents were inclining tow ard peace. R ussia was becom ing increas
ingly apprehensive of N apoleons designs, while T urkey was in no con
dition, financially or m ilitarily, to pursue the w ar further. This situation
afforded Stratford Canning, the young and daring successor to A dair at C on
stantinople, the first trium ph of his long diplom atic career. It was C anning
who established contact betw een sultan and tsar, and gradually overcam e
their m utual suspicions. N apoleon frantically attem pted to prevent the rap
prochement. H e wrote to his am bassador in C onstantinople: If Sultan
M ahm ud will take the field with one-hundred thousand m en, 1 will prom ise
him M oldavia, W allachia, and even the C rim ea. 13 But the T urks, not as
im pressed by N apoleons prom ises as they had been a few years earlier, ac
cepted a com prom ise settlem ent with the Russians and signed the T reaty of
B ucharest on M ay 28, 1812.
By this treaty the R ussians gave up their claims to M oldavia and
W allachia but retained the province of Bessarabia. They also m ade a ges
ture in behalf of their Serbian allies by inserting a clause providing for
am nesty and autonom y. B ut the Serbian fortresses were to be surrendered to
the sultan and were to be occupied again by T urkish garrisons. This latter
provision was the decisive one. T he Serbs, for all practical purposes, had
been left to their fate. We shall see in a later chapter th at the T urks ignored
their com m itm ents and soon resum ed their form er practices in the Serbian
T he O ttom an E m pire had no p art in the stirring dram a th at unfolded
during the years following the conclusion of the B ucharest T reaty. The dis
astrous invasion of Russia, the w ar of G erm an liberation, the H undred Days
none of these directly affected Southeastern E urope. Likewise, the diplo
m ats at the C ongress of V ienna concerned them selves with the problem s of
Poland, the G erm anies, the Italian states, b u t scarcely at all with those of
the N ear E ast. T he sultan did try to recover B essarabia through the, good
offices of A ustria, but he was inform ed that such a retrocession was out of
the question. Likewise, C astlereagh proposed th a t the great pow ers sign a
T reaty of G uarantee th at would apply not only to the settlem ent in Central
and W estern E urope but also to the status quo in the N ear East. A lexander
replied that he did not consider the provisions of the T reaty of B ucharest as
final. He had been willing to sign the treaty in 1812 under the threat of

The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 1792-1815


N apoleons invasion. B ut now th at R ussia was the dom inant m ilitary pow er
on the C ontinent he dem anded additional concessions designed to establish
R ussian hegemony over the B lack Sea and the Caspian. T he sultan rejected a
guarantee under such conditions, and C astlereaghs proposal was dropped.
Thus B alkan frontiers were not as m uch affected by the V ienna set
tlem ent as might have been expected after so m any years of war and revolu
tionary upheaval. T he Russians rem ained in Bessarabia, the A ustrians ac
quired the original V enetian possessions along the A driatic coast, while the
Ionian Islands were to form , under B ritish protection, an independent state
to be know n as the U nited States of the Ionian Islands. T he Russians and
the A ustrians retained their newly won B alkan provinces until W orld W ar I,
but the B ritish in 1863 ceded the Ionian Islands to the G reek kingdom es
tablished in the interval.


M ore im portant than the shift in frontiers were the psychological
and ideological im pacts of the French R evolution and of N apoleon upon the
Balkans. D espite the relative isolation of the peninsula, revolutionary ideas
and literature did seep in through various channels. M erchants and m ariners,
steadily increasing in num bers during these years, were quick to absorb rev
olutionary doctrines while abroad, and usually spread their new ideas with
zeal and enthusiasm am ong their discontented countrym en. Students were
beginning to enroll in W estern universities, and as a rule they returned hom e
ardent adm irers of W estern institutions and ideologies. Im portant also were
the F rench m erchants, adventurers, secretaries, and tutors who were begin
ning to appear in appreciable num bers, especially in the D anubian Principal
ities. Finally, there was the system atic propaganda directed from Paris with
the aim of underm ining O ttom an authority. This was particularly intensive
during the years of F ranco-T urkish hostility. Needless to say, this propaganda
was designed to utilize the local populations as pawns of French diplom acy.
In the spring of 1797 N apoleon instructed his com m ander in the Ionian Isles
to flatter the inhabitants . . . and to speak of the G reece of A thens and of
Sparta in the various proclam ations w hich you will issue. 14
W hatever the m otives and the m eans of propagation, there can be
no doubt about the very real influence of F rench R evolutionary ideology
upon certain sections of the B alkan people. M asonic lodges and other secret
organizations were established in the principal towns. N ew spapers were
founded dedicated to the spreading of revolutionary principles and to the
overthrow of T urkish dom ination. T he revolutionary ideology may not
have been transferred intact from W est to E ast, and the concepts of liberty,
equality, and fraternity m ay have been but barely com prehended. Y et the
uprisings in Paris and the exploits of N apoleon m ade the subject B alkan
peoples m ore restless, m ore independent, and m ore determ ined to win their
freedom . A contem porary G reek revolutionary testified: T he F rench R ev
olution in general aw akened the m inds of all men. . . . All the C hristians of


Age of Ottoman Decline: 1566-1815

the N ear E ast prayed to G od th at F ran ce should wage w ar against the T urks,
and they believed th at they w ould be freed. . . . B ut when N apoleon m ade no
m ove, they began to take m easures for freeing them selves. 15 Similar is the
testim ony of another G reek revolutionary, the colorful T heodore K olokotrones, who after being a klepht in the Peloponnesus, served under the British
in the Ionian Islands and then assum ed a leading role in the G reek W ar of

According to my judgement, the French Revolution and the doings of

Napoleon opened the eyes of the world. The nations knew nothing before, and
the people thought that kings were gods upon the earth and that they were
bound to say that whatever they did was well done. Through this present change
it is more difficult to rule the people.10
T he influence of France varied greatly from one Balkan region to
another. It was quite m arked in the A driatic lands where French rule pre
vailed the longest. In fact, the creation of the Illyrian Provinces stim ulated a
few decades later an Illyrian or Yugoslav national m ovem ent of some im
portance. O ne reason for this developm ent was th a t the French had encour
aged the cultural as well as the econom ic developm ent of the Provinces. They
built a netw ork of secondary, com m ercial, and agricultural schools. T he n a
tional language was used in these schools and in the new spapers which now
appeared. T he French also subsidized the publication of gram m ars and dic
tionaries and encouraged the organization of a national theater. T hus al
though the nam e Illyria had no national m eaning to N apoleon, it did
possess th at connotation in the Provinces. In a proclam ation of M arch 10,
1810, Colonel M angin announced to the people, You are now a part of a
large nation, confederated with a great and powerful em pire; you have be
com e Illyrians and you m ust m ake yourselves w orthy of the protection of
N apoleon, the savior of your coun try . 17
It is notew orthy th at French influence extended across the frontier
am ong the South Slavs under A ustrian and O ttom an rule. The leader of the
Serbian revolt, K arageorge, sent a letter dated A ugust 16, 1809, to Ledouix,
French vice-consul at B ucharest, asking for the

powerful protection of the Great Napoleon. . . . The Serbians assure his Imperial
and Royal Majesty that their compatriots, the inhabitants of Bosnia and of the
duchy of Herzegovina, and those who live in the kingdom of Hungary, not ex
cepting the Bulgarians who derive, so to speak, from the same branch, will follow
their example at the first move which is made.18
T he significance of the French interlude in the A driatic is th at for
the first tim e it united Serbs, C roats, and Slovenes, and stim ulated 'am ong
them the idea of Illyrian or Yugoslav unity and independence. It was still
only an idea. It could not be called a m ovem ent. It did n o t stir the masses.
B ut it did provide a beginning a tradition for the pow erful Illyrian m ove
m ent of the 1830s and 1840s, to be discussed in C hapter 14. This m ove
m ent was to develop under the stim ulus of H apsburg repression after 1815

The Balkans, the French Revolution, and Napoleon: 1792-1815


and of the writings of South Slav w riters and scholars. In 1847 a F rench so
ciologist who had journeyed through the B alkans reported that, in creating
the Illyrian Provinces, N apoleon had truly touched the national fiber of the
neighboring peoples of the A driatic. T hey believed, he w rote, th at having
freed them from the A ustrian yoke, N apoleon had planned to disrupt the
O ttom an E m pire and unify all Y ugoslavs: Even today it is still like a happy
dream which their poets w rite about, and one cannot persuade them th at
the Illyria of the future never existed in N apoleons m ind. 19
Finally it should be noted that during this period all the pow ers in
volved in the Balkans enrolled in their respective armies a considerable num
ber of recruits from the local populations. This m ilitary service was quite
significant, opening new horizons for the recruits as well as instructing them
in m ilitary techniques. Before this tim e a considerable num ber of Serbians
had served in the A ustrian arm ies, and these veterans, K arageorge being
prom inent am ong them , played an im portant role in the 1804 Serbian up
rising. Now, during the French Revolutionary and N apoleonic years, both
Serbian and R um anian recruits served in the R ussian forces. It is note
w orthy th at T u d o r V ladim irescu, who was to lead the R um anian peasants in
1821, had fought with the Russians against the T urks in 1806 and had risen
to the rank of lieutenant.
The G reeks also enrolled in foreign arm ies, m any klephts crossing
over from the m ainland to the Ionian Islands for that purpose. The French
organized these w arlike recruits into the C hausseurs d O rien t ; the Russians
form ed several com panies with native com m anders; and Sir Richard C hurch,
a British officer, organized a regim ent of the Duke of Y orks G reek Light
Infantry. He reported on N ovem ber 12, 1811, that he had been able to
transform his men from the m ost lawless of m ankind, not only into good
soldiers, but also into praisew orthy m em bers of civilized society. . . . The
num ber of recruits that flock to me from all parts of G reece is really ex trao r
dinary. . . . Should governm ent wish for men, I will answer from my character
alone in this country to raise 6000 or 8000 men in as m any m onths. 20
W ith the end of the w ar the British governm ent disbanded the Greek units,
to the disgust of Sir R ichard, who was an ardent philhellene and who saw
the leaders of a future national uprising in the Greek soldiers he was train
ing. His hopes were not in vain. T he G reeks who served under him, as well
as under the F rench and the Russians, provided m uch of the leadership in
the G reek W ar of Independence th at broke out only six years after the V ienna
settlem ent.

1815 1878

Pari IV. Agi; nf Nationalism


D y n a m ic s o f B a lk a n

P o litic s: 1 8 1 5 - 1 8 7 8

.MMa v i n g r e a c h e d t h e t h r e s h o l d of the nineteenth
century we enter a new epoch of B alkan history. We call this the Age of
N ationalism , and the reason for doing so is th at during the course of the
nineteenth century the burgeoning national consciousness of the Balkan peo
ples exploded into a series of revolutionary m ovem ents against Turkish rule.
This national aw akening, and the successful uprisings th at followed, were re
sponsible for the striking difference betw een the B alkan Peninsula of 1815
and th at of 1878: the one ruled in its entirety by the O ttom an power and the
other including three independent B alkan states and a fourth th at was fully
autonom ous. It does not follow th at nationalism was the only force at w ork in
the B alkan w orld betw een 1815 and 1878. Indeed, the dynam ics of Balkan
politics during these decades m ay be defined as the interplay of three factors:
the continued decline of the O ttom an E m pire, the aw akening of the subject
nationalities, and the expanding interests and increasing rivalries of the vari
ous great powers. In this chapter we shall consider each of those factors in

From the purely territorial view point the O ttom an E m pire in the
early nineteenth century was still a great w orld pow er. O ne of the largest
states in E urope, it also spraw led over vast areas in A sia and A frica. In the
latter continent it extended from A lgiers to Egypt; in A sia it em braced
A rabia, the L evant states, M esopotam ia, and A natolia; in E urope it stretched
from the P ru th R iver in the east to the D alm atian coast in the west and to
the tip of G reece in the south.
This faade of em pire was im pressive, but the substance behind the
faade was very different. In earlier chapters we considered the causes and
m anifestations of O tto m an decline the disintegration of the unique adm in
istrative system, the dem oralization of the arm ed forces, and the heedless


Dynamics of Balkan Politics: 18151878


exploitation of the peasantry. This dow nw ard trend continued unabated after
the sixteenth century, with the exception of brief periods of superficial recov
ery. By the nineteenth century the results of this decline were plainly evident
throughout the im perial structure.
T he em pire was divided into twenty-six provinces or eyalets, of which
five were in the Balkan Peninsula. T he bureaucracy that governed these te r
ritories bore little resem blance to the splendid organization of early times.
T he original slave adm inistrator with his superb training and strict m erit
system of advancem ent had given way to the officeholder who norm ally
bought his position and who regarded it as a private investm ent th at should
be m ade to yield as high a return as possible. This officeholder frequently
was indebted to a wealthy A rm enian or G reek banker who loaned the original
capital and who added his exaction to that of the titular official. The same
principle applied in taxation as in adm inistration. A hierarchy of tax farm ers
bought and sold the tax collection concessions, each vendor pocketing a sub
stantial profit. The net result was a system th at com bined m axim um exploita
tion of subject with m inimum benefit for governm ent.
T he one redeem ing feature was that the sultan was unable to enforce
this m isgovernm ent throughout the em pire. M ost of the provinces had long
since passed out of his control. T he Barbary States of N orth A frica nom inally
recognized his suzerainty but, in fact, had been independent for centuries. In
Egypt the im perial standard was perm itted to fly over C airo, but the real
m asters of that rich province were the M am eluke chieftains and, later, Mehem et Ali. Likewise, the governors of the great provinces of Syria and M eso
potam ia ruled their dom ains with little or no regard for C onstantinople. In
the A rabian Peninsula not even the sem blance of im perial authority rem ained.
In that original hom e of Islam the fundam entalist W ahabite sect had arisen
in protest against the corruption of the religion of the Prophet and had
driven the T urks com pletely out of the peninsula. Even in A natolia, the
province closest to C onstantinople, only two eyalets rem ained under the sul
ta n s control.
T urning to the Balkan provinces of the em pire, we find the situation
basically sim ilar. T he fact th at the population here was predom inantly C hris
tian was of no p articular significance. Class distinctions in the O ttom an E m
pire were, in certain respects, m ore m eaningful than those of religion. The
ruling oligarchy in C onstantinople included C hristians and Jews as well as
M oslem s. Likewise, the peasant in the provinces was not exem pt from ex
ploitation sim ply because he happened to be a Moslem. Sometimes he was
worse off th an his C hristian neighbor, who was more likely to have some
m easure of autonom y. O n m ore than one occasion in the nineteenth century,
C hristians and T urks living in the B alkan provinces com bined to rid them
selves of the intolerable oppression of tyrannical pashas or of undisciplined
O ttom an adm inistration in the B alkan provinces was as chaotic as


Dynamics of Balkan Politics: 18151878


exploitation of the peasantry. This dow nw ard trend continued unabated after
the sixteenth century, with the exception of brief periods of superficial recov
ery. By the nineteenth century the results of this decline were plainly evident
throughout the im perial structure.
The em pire was divided into tw enty-six provinces or eyalets, of which
five were in the B alkan Peninsula. T he bureaucracy that governed these te r
ritories bore little resem blance to the splendid organization of early times.
T he original slave adm inistrator with his superb training and strict merit
system of advancem ent had given way to the officeholder who norm ally
bought his position and who regarded it as a private investm ent th at should
be m ade to yield as high a return as possible. This officeholder frequently
was indebted to a wealthy A rm enian or G reek banker who loaned the original
capital and who added his exaction to that of the titular official. The same
principle applied in taxation as in adm inistration. A hierarchy of tax farm ers
bought and sold the tax collection concessions, each vendor pocketing a sub
stantial profit. The net result was a system that com bined m axim um exploita
tion of subject with m inim um benefit for governm ent.
T he one redeem ing feature was that the sultan was unable to enforce
this m isgovernm ent throughout the em pire. M ost of the provinces had long
since passed out of his control. T he B arbary States of N orth A frica nominally
recognized his suzerainty but, in fact, had been independent for centuries. In
Egypt the im perial standard was perm itted to fly over C airo, but the real
m asters of th at rich province were the M am eluke chieftains and, later, Mehem et Ali. Likewise, the governors of the great provinces of Syria and M eso
potam ia ruled their dom ains with little or no regard for C onstantinople. In
the A rabian Peninsula not even the sem blance of im perial authority rem ained.
In that original hom e of Islam the fundam entalist W ahabite sect had arisen
in protest against the corruption of the religion of the Prophet and had
driven the T urks com pletely out of the peninsula. Even in A natolia, the
province closest to C onstantinople, only two eyalets rem ained under the sul
tan s control.
T urning to the Balkan provinces of the em pire, we find the situation
basically similar. T he fact th at the population here was predom inantly C hris
tian was of no p articular significance. Class distinctions in the O ttom an E m
pire were, in certain respects, m ore meaningful than those of religion. The
ruling oligarchy in C onstantinople included Christians and Jews as well as
M oslem s. Likewise, the peasant in the provinces was not exem pt from ex
ploitation simply because he happened to be a Moslem. Sometimes he was
worse off than his C hristian neighbor, who was more likely to have some
m easure of autonom y. O n m ore th an one occasion in the nineteenth century,
C hristians and T urks living in the B alkan provinces com bined to rid them
selves of the intolerable oppression of tyrannical pashas or of undisciplined
O ttom an adm inistration in the B alkan provinces was as chaotic as


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

in the rest of the em pire. Beginning with the islands, we find C rete full of
janissaries who usually were able to defy the local pasha. T heir depredations
were so devastating th at the islands trade and prosperity suffered severely.
The Ionian Islands on the west coast of G reece had passed under British
protection following the N apoleonic W ars. T o the north of the D anube the
M oldavian and W allachian Principalities h ad an autonom ous adm inistration
under hospodars or governors selected from the leading G reek phanariote
families of C onstantinople. F urtherm ore, R ussia possessed special treaty con
cessions in the Principalities in regard to the establishm ent of consulates and
the protection of all G reek O rthodox inhabitants. T he O ttom an governm ent
also found it necessary to accept the de facto independence of certain m oun
tainous and inaccessible parts of the peninsula northern A lbania, M onte
negro, and a few regions in G reece. Finally, the Serbians of the Belgrade
pashalik were in open revolt against janissary abuse from 1804 onw ard.
Shortly after the conclusion of the N apoleonic W ars they were to win an
autonom ous status within the O ttom an E m pire.
Tw o of the m ost prom inent personalities in the Balkan Peninsula in
the early nineteenth century were Ali P asha and O sm an Pasvan-O glu, the
de facto rulers of southern A lbania and northern Bulgaria, respectively. In
bro ad outline, their careers and policies were sim ilar, and they are of sig
nificance for us in that they reflect the nature of O ttom an rule in the penin
sula. Both m en began their careers in areas where chaotic conditions prevailed
and w here the populace suffered from the depredations of bandits, local
chieftains, and tax collectors. B oth started out as brigands and gradually
carved out personal dom ains by a com bination of com plete ruthlessness and
unscrupulous exploitation of every opportunity. In both cases the im perial
governm ent attem pted to check these powerful potentates but, finding this to
be beyond its resources, ended by recognizing their authority.
Both men were able to assert and retain their authority because they
satisfied local needs and won the support of the local population. It is true
that they m ade liberal use of force and of outright terrorism . Such procedures
as the m urder of invited guests and the roasting of enem ies on the spit were
em ployed frequently and effectively by Ali and Pasvan-O glu. B ut they are
rem em bered not because of such lurid practices, which were com m on and
accepted at the time, but rath er because they were able to restore order, to
protect the poor from the extortions of the beys and the tax collectors, and
to provide security for their C hristian subjects.
O n this point the testim ony of contem porary observers is em phatic
and revealing. A n English traveler, for exam ple, reported th a t Pasvan-O glus
capital, V idin, owes its rise chiefly to the em igration of poor families from
W allachia and M oldavia, who pass over the D anube, and take refuge in B ul
garia, to avoid the tyranny and extortion practised by G reek tax-gatherers,
and their native boyars. . . . 1 Likewise a British envoy in 1803 dispatched
to his governm ent the following appraisal of Ali and his adm inistration.

Dynamics of Balkan Politics: 1815-1878


H e [Ali] is prom pt in his measures, full of energy, and professes a very

quick and nice discernm ent of Individual C haracter; but his w ant of education,
and a life spent in arms, have rendered him in his G overnm ent cruel and despotic,
because he found it to his advantage. H e has however established the m ost per
fect tranquility, and security of Persons and Property throughout his dom inions,
whose Inhabitants, G reeks and Turks, are richer, happier, m ore contented than
in any other part of E uropean T urkey.2

In conclusion, it is ap parent that the O ttom an governm ent in the

early nineteenth century was a governm ent in little m ore than nam e. M ost
of the em pire it could not govern; the rem ainder it misgoverned. T he need
was still the sam e as it had been for over two centuries a wholesale reo r
ganization of the im perial structure with the aim of establishing the authority
of the central governm ent and also of im proving the quality of its adm inis
tration. A t the turn of the century a sultan cam e to the throne with sufficient
wit and sense of responsibility to appreciate this need.
Selim III ascended the O ttom an throne in 1789 a sym bolically ap
propriate year, given the revolutionary nature of his ideas and aspirations.
Selim was not the first sultan to recognize the need for reform in the em pire.
B ut he was the first to realize that the refortn m easures m ust look forw ard
rath er than backw ard. He was the first to consider reform in term s of bor
rowing from the W est rath er than returning to the days of Suleiman. His
plans included the reorganization of adm inistration, the revam ping of educa
tion, and even the em ancipation of wom en. But the prerequisite for these and
other reform s was the abolition or the com plete transform ation of the janis
sary corps.
This body had becom e a degenerate and insubordinate P raetorian
G uard, feared only by the people it was designed to defend. Its u tter w orth
lessness had becom e ap parent during the wars with Russia. Regim ents showed
up at the front with a total of five or six men. A t the sight of the enemy the
janissaries were likely to break and run, pausing only to plunder their own
cam p. Several sultans had attem pted in the past to curb or destroy this per
nicious body. T hey all failed because the ulem a had sided with the janissaries
to form a pow erful coalition of religious and m ilitary vested interests. Also,
im portant econom ic interests supported the status quo because of the revenue
derived from speculation in janissary pay tickets. E ach janissary had a docu
m ent or sealed pay ticket which served as a passbook to receive pay. In 1740
perm ission was granted to buy and sell these pay tickets. T hey quickly be
cam e a type of stock certificate, eagerly bought up by officials and stock
speculators in no way connected with the janissary corps. T he scram ble for
tickets led inevitably to wholesale padding of the rolls. T he nam es of dead
janissaries were k ept on the rolls and their tickets were bought and sold. M us
tafa III attem pted to abolish this glaring abuse in 1768. T he janissary com
m ander inform ed him th at only half of the m oney paid out by the treasury
actually reached the soldiers. A nd when he added th at the other half found


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

its way to the ulem a, the palace officials, and the ministers of state, M ustafa
discreetly decided to drop his plan.
Selim was m ore persistent than M ustafa, but in the end the com bina
tion of religious, military, and econom ic interests overwhelm ed him. A t the
outset he was able to m ake some headw ay because of the popular revulsion
against the scandalous showing of the janissaries during the wars with Russia.
W ith the aid of a small group of like-m inded m inisters Selim began with
peripheral m easures designed to im prove the im perial defenses. T he Straits
fortifications were repaired, new w arships built, output of gunpow der in
creased, engineering and navigation schools reorganized under foreign direc
tion, and V au b an s classic treatise, The Assault and Defense of Fortified
Positions, was translated and published.
In 1793 Selim took the decisive step of establishing the Nizarnidjedid or New Regulations A rm y. This was to be a W estern type of army with
com m on uniform s, specified enlistm ent and recruitm ent procedures, E uro
pean m ethods of training, and m odern arm am ents including the latest types
of artillery, and the bayonet in place of the traditional scim itar. T he plans
called for an initial recruitm ent of 1,600 men and a gradual increase to
12,000. From the beginning the nizam i dem onstrated their worth. In 1798
they distinguished them selves at the siege of A cre, where they successfully
held out against the great N apoleon himself. Likewise, in 1803 and 1804
they dispersed brigand bands that were ravaging the province of Rum elia in
the Balkans.
E ncouraged by this showing, Selim made three successive attem pts,
in 1805, 1806, and 1807, to bring the New A rm y up to full strength. On each
occasion he was checked by the opposition of the janissaries and their allies.
Finally, in M ay, 1808, he was forced to abdicate in favor of his nephew,
M ustafa IV . T he latter ruled less than three m onths before being ousted by
the pash a of R uschuk in B ulgaria. This local potentate, popularly known as
B airaktar, or Standard-B earer, espoused Sclim s reform program , largely be
cause of the influence of an interesting group known as the Ruschuk Friends.
T he Friends were mostly form er m inisters of Selim who, following
the abdication of their m aster, h ad looked for support in order to resum e
their reform program . They turned to B airaktar because he was know n to be
dissatisfied with the new regime in C onstantinople and furtherm ore he had a
standing arm y of thirty thousand men to do his bidding. A ccordingly these
reform ers gathered in Ruschuk, w here they m ade plans to overthrow Sultan
M ustafa and restore Selim. T hey apparently enjoyed w idespread support from
patriotic elem ents because the very existence of E uropean T urkey was now
in jeopardy following the Tilsit A greem ent betw een N apoleon and T sar'A lex ander, discussed in C hapter 12.
In m id-July, 1808, B airak tar m arched upon C onstantinople and
seized the capital, but the unfortunate Selim was strangled before his rescuers
could reach the palace. B airak tar thereupon put on the throne M ahm ud II,
a nephew and also a pupil of Selim. B airak tar assum ed the posts of grand

Dynamics of Balkan Politics: 18151878


vizir and minister of war, while various m em bers of the R uschuk Friends
com prised the cabinet. Having gained control of the em pire, B airaktar and his
ministers dealt ruthlessly with the opposition and especially with the janis
saries. They also proceeded to apply their reform program with more firmness
and energy than Selim had ever displayed.
The janissaries and their supporters, as might be expected, were u n
alterably opposed to the new regime. T heir opportunity cam e when B airaktar
was forced to send most of his men to Ruschuk to meet the attack of a neigh
boring pasha. T he janissaries prom ptly rose in revolt on N ovem ber 14, 1808,
m urdered B airaktar, and for several days roam ed the streets, hunting down
the Ruschuk Friends and their supporters. Some five thousand homes were
burned and eight to ten thousand persons were killed during the reign of
Sultan M ahm ud m anaged to survive the carnage. He had taken the
precaution of strangling M ustafa a few days earlier and, because he was the
last surviving m em ber of the O ttom an house, the janissaries had no choice
but to accept him. They did, however, com pel M ahm ud to renounce all that
Selim and B airaktar had tried to achieve. By the end of 1808 the O ttom an
Em pire seemed as unchanging as ever. T he com bination of econom ic, mili
tary, and religious vested interests appeared invincible.
Selim and B airaktar had tried to do w hat Peter the G reat of Russia
had accom plished a century earlier. T hey failed in their attem pt for various
reasons. In the case of Selim, personal weakness and vacillation were in
volved. C ertainly he lacked the vigor and firmness of Peter. But personal
failings do not alone explain the course of events in C onstantinople. B airak
ta r gave abundant evidence of courage and decisiveness, but he also was
ground down. It is necessary to take into account other factors, including the
continued foreign w ars which distracted Selim and B airaktar and enabled
their opponents to seize the initiative. A lso, it should be recognized th at the
forces of reaction th at Selim and B airaktar h ad to cope with were much
stronger than those th at opposed Peter. T he janissaries had a broader base
in O ttom an society than the Streltzi in the Russian. Likewise, the M oslem
ulem a was m ore form idable than the O rthodox R ussian clergy. It was firmly
entrenched in the theocratic O ttom an Em pire and usually could count on the
unquestioning support of the devout population. It was a com bination, then,
of personal factors, foreign distractions, and the dom estic balance of power
th at explains the doom of the first outstanding O ttom an reform ers, Selim and
B airaktar.
T he failure to reform the em pire was of the utm ost significance for
the B alkan peoples. It assured the successful culm ination of their national
movem ents. W ith the trium ph of the janissaries it becam e apparent th at n a
tional aspirations could not be satisfied within the im perial fram ew ork.
H enceforth the B alkan peoples could expect no relief from m isgovernm ent,
and they could presum e som e chance for victory if they m ade a bid for inde


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878


T he B alkan w orld during the early O ttom an period was static and
theocratic. T he O rthodox C hurch dom inated education, w ritten literature,
and intellectual life in general. In the realm of politics, also, the leadership
of the church was unchallenged. N ational policies and national objectives
were virtually nonexistent. T he B alkan w orld during these early centuries
was a nonnational O rthodox w orld, and B alkan politics were conceived of
and expressed in nonnational O rthodox term s. This O rthodox hegem ony, as
we noted in C hapter 9, was underm ined by certain new forces th at m ade their
appearance long before the nineteenth century: the Age of T heocracy super
seded by the Age of N ationalism as a result of the decline of the O ttom an
E m pire with the accom panying m ilitary and adm inistrative deterioration; the
rise of chifliks, which produced in certain regions a land-hungry and revolu
tionary peasantry; the grow th of com m erce and industry, which introduced to
the B alkan scene new social elem ents with new ideas; and the great increase
in the num ber of contacts with the rest of E urope, which led to a correspond
ing increase in the influence of foreign ideologies.
These new forces bore fruit w hen the various B alkan peoples during
the course of the nineteenth century took up arm s for liberation from O tto
m an rule. We shall see in the following chapters th at these nationalist m ove
m ents were m olded by varying com binations of the new forces. It does not
follow, however, th at B alkan nationalism was hom ogeneous or coordinated.
The aw akening of the Balkan peoples did not culm inate in a united penin
sular revolution against O ttom an rule. Instead, there occurred a series of
independent uprisings spread over the whole of the nineteenth century. A nd
in place of com m on effort there was continual rivalry and occasional open
O ne reason for this dissension was th at the tem po of national re
vival varied greatly from people to people. T he G reeks cam e first because of
certain favorable circum stances: their num erous contacts with the W est; their
glorious classical heritage, which stim ulated national pride; and their G reek
O rthodox C hurch, which em bodied and preserved national consciousness.
A fter the G reeks cam e the Serbs. They led the other South Slavs because of
the high degree of local self-governm ent and because of the stim ulating in
fluence of the large Serbian settlem ents in southern H ungary. These advan
tages enjoyed by the G reeks and the Serbs suggest the reasons for the slower
rate of national revival am ong the oth er B alkan peoples. T he Bulgars h ad no
direct ties with the W est and were located n ear the O ttom an capital and the
solid T urkish settlem ents in T hrace and eastern M acedonia. The R um anians
suffered from a sharp social stratification which was unique in the B alkan
Peninsula and which produced a cultivated upper class and an inert peasant
mass. Finally, the A lbanians were the w orst off with their prim itive tribal
organization and their division am ong three creeds, O rthodoxy, Catholicism ,
and Islam.

Dynamics of Balkan Politics: 1815-1878


These factors explain why in place of a com m on B alkan revolution

there occurred separate uprisings ranging from the early nineteenth century
to the early tw entieth. A no th er factor th a t contributed to B alkan disunity was
an underlying and persistent hostility betw een the G reeks on the one hand
and the Slavs and the R um anians on the other. O ne reason for this hostility
was the G reek dom ination of the O rthodox ecclesiastical m achinery in the
B alkans. We saw in C hapter 7 th a t the abolition of the Serbian P atriarchate
of Ipek (P e c ) in 1766, and of the B ulgarian A rchbishopric of O hrid in the
following year, placed both Serbians and Bulgarians under the direct juris
diction of the G reek p atriarchs in C onstantinople. This arrangem ent con
tinued until 1831 when the Patriarchate recognized the autonom y of the Ser
bian church, and until 1870 when the Bulgarians obtained a firm an from the
sultan establishing their church as independent of the Ecum enical P a triar
chate.* D uring the intervening decades G reek prelates filled virtually all the
top church posts in the n orthern Balkans, while the G reek language was used
in the church services and in the church schools.
This situation led to charges th at the G reeks were conducting a de
liberate H ellenization and denationalization cam paign against the South Slavs.
In actual fact, G reek cultural and ecclesiastical hegem ony was m ore the prod
uct of historical tradition and contem porary reality. N either the South Slavs
nor the Rum anians had at the tim e the trained personnel necessary to fill
ecclesiastical posts, or the literary languages and national literatures needed
for educational purposes. T he R um anian historian N icholas Iorga em pha
sized this point as follows:
F or m any years a struggle has been conducted in my country against
w hat is called the G reek oppression. F or forty years I have opposed this m ani
festly erroneous viewpoint. . . . If there was a G reek school [in R um ania], it
was not a national school of contem porary Hellenism; it was for the whole world,
like the Latin schools in the West. It provided a com m on bond with its use of
one language and its propagation of one body of thought. . . . Com m on life
under the O ttom an Em pire, cooperation within the context of a civilization and
one of the great languages of antiquity, m ade possible continual rapport [among
the Balkan Christians].3

T he fact rem ains, however, th a t w ith the first signs of national con
sciousness, the n o rth ern B alkan peoples naturally turned against the cultural
and ecclesiastical dom ination of the P atriarchate. It did not m atter th at the
G reek nationalists also found themselves at odds with the essentially anti
national church hierarchy, to be discussed in C hapter 15. T he South Slavs
and the R um anians understandably identified the G reek-dom inated church
with the G reek nationality, and becam e generally anti-G reek.
T he north ern B alkan peoples also had econom ic grievances against
the G reeks. They heartily disliked the G reek financiers, who frequently were
the local tax farm ers and m oneylenders. U nderlying these specific considera* See C hapter 19.


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

tions were the traditional antipathy and distrust of the peasant for the m an
from the city. T he overw helm ing m ajority of the G reeks at this time were
engaged in agriculture. B ut the type of G reek th at the R um anian and Slav
peasants had dealings with was likely to be a m erchant, a governm ent official,
a m oneylender, a tax farm er, or an ecclesiastic. H ence the popular conception
of the G reek as being well educated and intelligent, but also cunning, avari
cious, and unscrupulous. A Serbian leader stated in 1810 th at the Byzantine
em perors had called in the T urks to destroy the Serbian em pire, and th at
from th at period to the present day there has persisted, despite the religious
tie, national enm ity betw een the Serbians and the G reeks. 4 Likewise, a
com m on saying of the R um anian peasants is, The G reek is a pernicious dis
ease who penetrates to the b one. 6 T he G reeks naturally reciprocated in
kind. T hey tended to look down upon the other B alkan peoples as dull and
ignorant country bum pkins. A contem porary observer relates:
T he
logus, 1261:
repugnant to

G reeks despise the Sclavonians, calling them barbarians and kon(w ooden-heads), as they did even in the tim e of M ichael Palaeoon the other hand the astute and wily spirit of the G reeks is utterly
the Sclavonians, who regard them with jealousy and distrust.

T he B alkan peoples were divided within themselves as well as am ong

themselves. M erchants, m ariners, and land-hungry peasants were likely to be
dissatisfied with the im perial status quo. B ut the B alkan peoples had certain
religious and secular leaders who were closely associated with the O ttom an
im perial structure and who, therefore, were not so ready to turn against it.
This was the case with the higher clergy who, as we saw in C hapter 9, op
posed revolutionary agitation because of its rationalism , secularism , and
W estern origin, and also because it was a th reat to their privileged position
and their vested interests within the O ttom an fram ew ork.
A nother im portant group th at was lukew arm to change was the class
of prim ates, know n to the G reeks as kodjabashi, to the Bulgarians as chorbaji,
and to the Serbs as knezes. T he typical prim ate was a com bination landow ner,
adm inistrative agent, and tax collector. He collected taxes, tried civil cases,
served as interm ediary betw een the Turkish overlord and the C hristian sub
ject, and, in the m ore enlightened regions, concerned him self w ith public
health, welfare, and education. H e was elected by the local C hristian popu
lation, yet he and his fellow prim ates constituted in m ost cases a self-perpetuating and all-pow erful oligarchy. T he average peasant, voting by show of
hand, was practically forced to accept the leadership of the local landow ners,
who dom inated the com m unity by virtue of their w ealth, their influence' with
the O ttom an authorities;, and their pow er as tax collectors. In m ost regions
the prim ates form ed a provincial aristocracy with an alm ost exclusive and
hereditary control over local governm ent. A t best these prim ates strove to
wrest concessions from the T urkish officials, to dissuade them from undesir
able actions, and to raise the health and educational standards of their con-

Dynamics of Balkan Politics: 18151878


stitucnts. A t w orst they used their authority to exploit their fellow C hristians,
who bitterly referred to them as C hristian T u rk s.
In either case the prim ates, by virtue of their function as interm edi
aries between rulers and ruled, had no choice but to m aintain good relations
with the T urkish officials. T heir very existence as a class required acceptance
and, if necessary, support of O ttom an rule. T hus the prim ates throughout the
peninsula usually were opposed to revolution unless they could see their way
clear to a successful outcom e and to the preservation of their position and
C ontem porary travelers frequently reported th at the B alkan peasants
com plained openly th at they suffered m ore from the exactions of their own
prim ates and clergy than of the Turkish officials. O ne English traveler, for
exam ple, relates th at he encountered a saying com m on am ong the G reeks,
that the country labours under three curses, the priests, the cogia bashis and
the T urks; always placing the plagues in this ord er. 7 This point should not
be exaggerated, but neither should it be ignored. O ttom an adm inistration,
with its extrem e decentralization, created certain native vested interests th at
inevitably were com m itted to the status quo. L ord Broughton was so im
pressed by this factor when he journeyed through the G reek lands in 1810
th at he concluded th at a national uprising was out of the question.
Any general revolution of the G reeks, independent of foreign aid, is
quite im practicable; for notw ithstanding the great mass of the people, as is the
case in all insurrections, has feeling and spirit enough to m ake the attem pt, yet
m ost of the higher classes, and all the clergy . . . are apparently willing to
acquiesce in their present condition.
T he P atriarch and Princess of the Fanal [Phanariotes] are at the devotion
of the Porte. T he prim ates of the towns and the richer m erchants would be cau
tious not to move, unless they might be certain of benefiting by the change; and
of this backw ardness in the chiefs of their nation, the G reeks are by no means
insensible. T hey talk of it publicly, and make it the subject of their satire, reveng
ing themselves, as is their constant practice by a song. . . . We have found a
M etropolitan, and a Bey of W allachia, and a M erchant and a Prim ate, all friends
to tyranny. 8

L ord B roughtons pessimistic conclusion concerning the likelihood

of a G reek revolt was not borne out by the course of events. N evertheless,
his observations, like those of other contem porary travelers, suggest why the
B alkan nationalist aw akening took the varying forms that it did. T heir evi
dence indicates th a t B alkan nationalism was a com plex m ovem ent with cen
trifugal as well as centripetal forces operating within and am ong the various
B alkan history during the nineteenth century was determ ined not
only by continued O ttom an decline and by burgeoning nationalism s, but
also by the increasing intervention of the great powers. This intervention rep


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

resents the final phase in the history of the relations betw een the O ttom an
E m pire and the rest of E urope. A t first it was the T urks who intervened in
E urope. It was they who crossed the Straits, conquered the B alkans, overran
H ungary, and, on two occasions, threatened V ienna and the whole of C en
tral E urope. C hristendom s first reaction to this T urkish onslaught was fairly
consistently hostile. T he T u rk was an infidel as well as an invader. H ence
the futile crusades of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
By the sixteenth century C hristendom s unity against the T u rk had
ended. It was not by chance th at Pope Pius II died brokenhearted in 1464
w aiting at A ncona for a C hristian arm y th at never m aterialized. By this tim e
C hristian diplom acy had becom e too secularized to allow for crusades. The
new nation-states placed dynastic and com m ercial considerations before re
ligious ones. T he outstanding exam ple of this new attitude was the Turkish
alliance concluded in 1536 by the m ost C hristian king of France against
the apostolic m ajesty C harles V of the H oly R om an Em pire.
T he early sixteenth century m arked the transition from uncom prom
ising enm ity to realistic accom m odation in the relations between the O tto
m an E m pire and E urope. Tw o centuries later we com e to another turning
point. T he T reaty of K arlow itz of 1699 represented the end of the Turkish
offensive and the beginning of the E uro p ean counteroffensive. Never again
was E urope threatened by the pow er which for alm ost three centuries had
m enaced its security. Instead, E urope now faced precisely the opposite prob
lem. O ttom an pow er receded so rapidly th at a political vacuum was created
in the N ear East. O ne of the basic problem s of E uropean diplom acy hence
forth was how to fill this vacuum . It is significant th at at the tim e of the
K arlow itz T reaty the F ren ch am bassador in C onstantinople w rote to Louis
X IV , Providence probably has decided the end of the T urks in E u ro p e.
T he am bassador w ent on to w arn his m aster th at he could not dispense with
taking m easures . . . to avoid being a m ere spectator to the division which
the oth er pow ers m ade am ong them of the debris of th at [O ttom an] E m
p ire. 9 T hus the pow ers were confronted with the so-called N ear E astern
Q uestion a question th at was to run through E u ropean diplom acy like a
red thread until the end of W orld W ar I.
A ustria and R ussia were the first powers to take advantage of the
O ttom an decline. By the end of the eighteenth century they had conquered
the vast territories across the D anube and along the n o rthern shore of the
B lack Sea. A t this tim e B ritain viewed the R ussian advance w ith equanim ity.
B ritain was then in the m idst of her prolonged struggle with France and
could give little attention to the possible im plications of R ussian expansion.
F urtherm ore, B ritain had vital com m ercial interests in Russia. Following the
1734 A nglo-R ussian com m ercial treaty, trade betw een the two countries
had increased to the poin t where the B ritish controlled 52 per cent of the
total volum e of com m erce at St. Petersburg. Also, E m press C atherine had
issued a ukase perm itting B ritish m erchants in R ussia to tap the Persian m ar
ket. A nd Russian tim ber was essential to British naval power, particularly

Dynamics of Balkan Politics: 1815-1878


after the loss of the A m erican colonies. T hese considerations explain why
B ritain in 1769 not only perm itted C atherines fleet to enter the M editer
ranean b u t even notified Paris and M adrid th at any action against this fleet
would be considered a hostile act against herself.
In the early nineteenth century this com m ercial and political situa
tion changed and B ritish policy changed with it. A nglo-R ussian trade suffered
from various artificial restrictions. Britain curtailed her im ports from Russia
when she adopted the C orn Law in 1815 and granted heavy preference to
im perial tim ber. M eanw hile, the English L evant C om pany was expanding its
com m ercial operations in the N ear E ast by leaps and bounds. T he only
Turkish levies on foreign trade were a sm all anchorage fee and a 3 per cent
ad valorem duty on im ports. A lso, F rench com m ercial com petition in the
L evant had becom e negligible because of the effects of the R evolutionary
w ars and N apoleons C ontinental System. M ore im portant was the growing
industrial suprem acy of E ngland as a result of the Industrial R evolution. By
the late eighteenth century English cotton goods were flooding the m arkets
of the entire world. T he effect upon the com m erce of the Levant is evident
in the following figures on the value of B ritish exports to the O ttom an E m
pire: 1783 8 8 ,0 6 5 ; 1816 2 5 6 ,8 0 2 ;. 1825 1,079,671; 1835
2 ,7 0 6 ,5 9 1 ; 1845 7 ,6 2 0 ,1 4 0 . By 1850 T urkey was a better custom er
of the U nited Kingdom than Italy, France, Russia, or A u stria.10
A t the sam e tim e that the com m ercial relations between England and
Russia declined in relative im portance, the political relations between the
two countries becam e increasingly strained. V arious conflicts developed in
the process of the readjustm ent of pow er relationships following the defeat
of N apoleon. T he m ost serious was the crisis over the fate of P oland: A ppre
hension also began to be felt in E ngland concerning R ussias designs upon
T urkey, Persia, and India. A rticles and books appeared depicting the T urks
in a m ore favorable light and raising the bogy of the Russian colossus.
T his com bination of econom ic and political factors explains B ritains
shift from a pro-R ussian to a pro-T urkish policy. The Foreign Office cam e
to regard further R ussian expansion in the N ear E ast as incom patible with
B ritish im perial interests. Specifically it feared that Russian control of the
Straits w ould endanger B ritains L evantine trade, her naval pow er in the
M editerranean, and her position in India. It might even upset the balance
of pow er in the whole of E urope. T hus British diplom acy throughout the
nineteenth century w orked unceasingly to preserve the integrity of the O tto
m an Em pire.
B ritain s status quo policy conflicted with the m ore dynam ic aims of
three oth er great pow ers th at were particularly interested in the B alkans and
the N ear E ast in the early nineteenth century: Russia, F rance, and A ustria.
O f these three, R ussia was the m ost persistent opponent of Britain. A fter her
spectacular territorial gains und er C atherine and A lexander, R ussia was not
likely to halt her advance abruptly at the D niester. She m ade this clear in a
note th at she circularized at the V ienna C ongress in F ebruary, 1815. The


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

note, after calling attention to the T urkish atrocities in Serbia, stated th at the
em peror of Russia was the natural protector of the O rthodox G reek C hris
tians und er O ttom an dom ination, 11 in the sam e m anner th at the A ustrian
and F rench sovereigns were natural protectors of the C atholic Christians.
C onsequently, the note concluded, T sar A lexander is obliged by his religion
and by the voice of conscience to go to the aid of the oppressed Serbian
T he significance of this note is obvious. It gave R ussia grounds for
intervention in O ttom an affairs w henever she so wished. But when she did
try to intervene she met the resolute opposition of Britain. It is an oversim
plification, however, to assert th at Russia invariably strove to dism em ber the
sultans dom ains. W e shall see th at in 1829 she halted her arm ies outside
C onstantinople and deliberately decided to accept the existence of the m ori
bund O ttom an Em pire. Likewise, in the eighteen thirties she cooperated with
Britain in supporting the sultan against the overly am bitious M chem ct Ali of
Egypt. D espite these exceptions it rem ains true th at R ussian diplom acy was
generally anti-T urkish while British diplom acy was usually pro-T urkish.
H ence the frequent crises and periodic w ars of the nineteenth century.
F ran ce also was vitally interested in B alkan and N ear E astern affairs.
A t one time her influence in the O ttom an court had been unrivaled. In 1536
she was the first C hristian pow er to conclude an alliance and a com m ercial
agreem ent with the T urks. F rom then on her diplom ats w orked unceasingly
to bolster the O ttom an E m pire because it was to the advantage of France to
have a strong T urkish ally on A ustrias rear. N apoleons erratic diplom acy,
however, underm ined French influence in C onstantinople. F urtherm ore, de
feated France was forced to yield both M alta and the Ionian Islands to
B ritain. T hus F ran ces position in the N ear E ast in 1815 was at an all-tim e
low. It is not surprising th at in the eighteen thirties she sought to advance
her position by supporting the insurgent M ehem et Ali of Egypt against the
C onstantinople governm ent. B ut this strategy failed in the face of com bined
A nglo-R ussian opposition. D uring the following decades France usually
ranged herself on the side of Britain. T he explanation is not th at the two
pow ers had no differences. R ath er it was th a t they had an overriding com
m on interest in blocking Russian expansion. T hus Britain and France fought
together against Russia during the Crim ean W ar and continued to cooperate
on m ost crucial issues until W orld W ar I.
T he other m ajor pow er interested in the B alkans in the early nine
teenth century was A ustria. A fter h er great trium ph in the K arlow itz settle
m ent she alternated betw een two contradictory policies tow ard the ancient
Turkish foe. Sometimes she attacked him as a w eak neighbor ripe for p arti
tion. A t oth er tim es she supported him as a useful bulw ark against the
m enacing advance of Russia. D uring the eighteenth century A ustria followed
both these policies at various times. T hen in 1815 she acquired D alm atia and
other form er V enetian possessions, which m ade her the dom inant pow er in
the A driatic and in the western Balkans. D uring the rest of the nineteenth

Dynamics oj Balkan Politics: 1815-1878


century A ustria usually was on the side of B ritain supporting the status quo
in the N ear E ast. She feared th at a m ajor rearrangem ent would strengthen
prim arily Russia, whom she considered particularly dangerous because of
the m any Slavic subjects in the H apsburg E m pire who might be attracted by
Russian national and religious propaganda.
Jn conclusion, these four pow ers B ritain, Russia, France, and A us
tria were the m ost involved in Balkan affairs in the early nineteenth cen
tury. They determ ined to a considerable degree the course of events through
out the N ear E astern world. T heir conflicting interests and policies explain
in large p art why the m oribund O ttom an Em pire was able to survive until
W orld W ar I despite its m iserable showing against the G reek revolutionaries
and M ehem et Ali in the opening decades of the nineteenth century.

14. The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs

to 1878

U n t i l r e c e n t t i m e s the South Slavs have been the

forgotten people of E urope. As late as the first q u arter of the nineteenth cen
tury ethnographic m aps of the B alkans depicted the peninsula as being in
habited predom inantly by G reeks or T urks. T he Slavs were either ignored
altogether or else confused with the Illyrians of antiquity. This obscurity arose
in p art from the location of the Slavs in the interior of the Balkans, where
they lacked the contacts and the opportunities enjoyed by the G reeks to the
south. A n equally im portant factor was the lack of unity am ong the South
Slavs from the time of their first appearance in the B alkans in the sixth cen
tury to W orld W ar I in the tw entieth century. T his disunity prevented the
Slavs from assum ing a role com m ensurate with their num erical predom inance
in the peninsula. In the medieval period Stephen D ushan failed to incorporate
in his em pire all the Serbian people, let alone the other South Slavs. The
T urks overran m ost of the Slavic territories in the B alkans, but they were
finally checked by the H apsburgs and were unable to extend their frontiers
to include Slovenia and w estern C roatia. D uring the following centuries the
South Slavs were divided betw een the H apsburg and O ttom an em pires, with
the H apsburg portion becom ing increasingly larger as the T urks progressively
w eakened.
T he South Slavs were divided in cultural as well as political m atters.
T he C roatians and the Slovenes belonged to the W estern w orld, being
Catholics and under the influence of the G erm ans and the Italians. T he Ser
bians and the Bulgarians, on the other hand, belonged to the E astern 'w o rld
because of their O rthodox faith and their B yzantine-O ttom an background.
This cultural and political heterogeneity of the B alkan Slavs explains in large
p a rt why they lagged behind the oth er Slavic peoples of E urope in the tem po
of their national awakening. It also explains why their awakening, once it
began, was a m any^stranded affair. T here was no com m on nationalist move-


The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


m ent o r com m on uprising for independence. Instead, the various South Slav
peoples went their several ways, reacting individually to the various environ
ments in which they lived.
The Serbs of the Belgrade region were the first to win autonom y b e
cause of a favorable com bination of circum stances. In order to place their
m ovem ent in its p ro p er perspective we will first survey the position of the
other South Slavs Slovenes, C roatians, and Serbians who lived under
H apsburg and T urkish rule. T he Bulgarians will not be considered in this
chapter because to the present day they have developed along sufficiently
distinct lines to require separate treatm ent.

As noted in C hap ter 2, the Slavs appeared in the B alkan Peninsula
in the sixth and seventh centuries of the C hristian E ra and settled in a fairly
solid belt from the A driatic to the B lack seas. This wide geographic dispersal
brought them under a variety of foreign influences, so th a t gradually they
evolved into four distinct peoples, Slovenes, C roatians, Serbians, and Bul
garians. A t the beginning of the nineteenth century they were all under fo r
eign dom ination, with the exception of a handful of m ountaineers in M onte
negro and a few m erchants and m ariners in the D alm atian city-republic of
R agusa or Dubrovnik.
Slovenia. T he w esternm ost of the South Slavs are the Slovenes who
settled at the head of the A driatic in a great arc around the city of Trieste.
This location explains the distinctive character of the Slovenian language
which is related both to the Serbo-C roatian spoken further east and to the
Slovak spoken in the north. T hus the Slovenian language constitutes a con
necting link between the southern and northern Slavic languages, and the
sam e may be said of Slovenian culture in general. The location of the Slovenes
also affected their religious developm ent. U nlike the other South Slavs, they
were profoundly affected by the R eform ation. But the C ounterreform ation
brought them back to the fold of the C atholic C hurch, so th at the Slovenes
today are overwhelm ingly Catholic. Finally, the location of the Slovenes
brought them into conflict with the G erm ans who surrounded them in the
north and west. Conflict was inevitable because the Slovenes occupied stra
tegic territory which denied the great G erm an eth n ic bloc access to the M edi
terranean. T hus the Slovenes soon fell under G erm an dom ination and for
m any centuries were subjected to a strong process of G erm anization.
T he Slovenes first appeared in their present hom eland in the sixth
century. A fter waging a long struggle against the A vars they succum bed to
the G erm ans at the end of the eighth century. In the course of the fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries they cam e under H apsburg dom ination. Thus the
Slovenes were never able to establish an independent state organization, liv
ing continuously under foreign dom ination until the creation of Yugoslavia
at the end of W orld W ar I. B ut G erm an rule was not altogether negative. It


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

presented the constant danger of assim ilation, but it also conferred very real
benefits. G erm an rule was responsible for the fact th at the Slovenes were far
ahead of the other South Slavs in cultural developm ent, technological skills,
and econom ic progress. Also, the Slovenes enjoyed com parative security,
never experiencing the devastation and wholesale depopulation suffered by
the other South Slavs. It is significant th a t alm ost all villages in Slovenia are
centuries old, w hereas in the other South Slav lands m any of the villages are
of recent origin and num erous traces m ay be found of destroyed o r deserted
T he social structure in Slovenia, as in the rest of the H apsburg E m
pire, was of a feudal nature before 1848. T he native ruling class had been
elim inated as early as the tenth century, so the nobility was G erm an. Slovenia,
like oth er countries of C entral E urope, experienced a series of peasant revolts
betw een the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. It should be noted, however,
th at feudalism in Slovenia was not as onerous as in the other South Slav
regions. A n im portant reason for this was the m ountainous character of the
land, which did not m ake large estates as profitable as in the plains areas. It
is also notew orthy that until the middle of the nineteenth century the urban
population was predom inantly G erm an while the countryside was alm ost ex
clusively Slovenian.
Croatia. T o the southeast of the Slovenes are the C roatians. T hey
profess the same C atholic faith but their language is quite different, being
identical with that of the Serbians. Linguists refer to a com m on SerboC roatian language, though the C roatians, it should be noted, use the Latin
alphabet w hereas the m ore easterly Serbians use the Cyrillic.
T he C roatians differ from the Slovenes not only in language b u t also
in historical background. T he Slovenes never established an independent
state, w hereas the C roatians developed in the m edieval period an extensive
and pow erful kingdom . F o r some tim e after their arrival in the Balkans in the
seventh century the C roatians were loosely organized on a tribal basis. In the
ninth century they were subjected for brief periods to the F rankish and By
zantine em pires but early in the tenth century they succeeded in establishing
an independent state. By the following century this state had grown to be a
form idable power, extending from the D rava River in the north to the A d ri
atic Sea in the south and including m ost of the D alm atian coast line.
In 1089 King Zvonim ir died w ithout leaving heirs, and the country
then passed under the control of L adislaus I of H ungary, whose sister had
m arried into the C roatian royal family. T he establishm ent of H ungarian rule
had im portant econom ic and political consequences. T he C roatian nobles,
who had invited H ungarian intervention, were allowed to keep th e ir'la n d s
and feudal privileges, including tax exem ption. Thus the native nobility sur
vived under foreign rule in contrast to the other South Slav peoples, who lost
their respective ruling classes and eventually em erged as exclusively peasant
nations. T he Catholic C hurch was also a pow erful feudal force with its vast
estates and its bishops holding high state offices. C roatia was thus ruled by a

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


com bination of tem poral and spiritual lords who also exercised all the pre
rogatives of the state over their serfs.
C ro atias relationship with H ungary was th at of a dependency. A u
tonom y was granted in dom estic affairs, but the H ungarian m onarch exercised
control over foreign affairs and w ar, and also appointed a governor or ban
to represent him in the C roatian capital of A gram or Zagreb. This union
lasted to 1918, though with continual changes in the constitutional relations
as each party strove to im prove its position.
The H ungarians were not always able to protect their C roatian de
pendency from foreign invaders. As a result, im portant C roatian lands were
lost to neighboring powers. Venice, for exam ple, coveted the D alm atian
C oast and gradually acquired it by conquest and by purchase. D alam atia
rem ained a V enetian possession until V enice herself fell victim to N apoleon
in 1797. M ore serious was the loss of C roatian territory to the T urks. T he
latter won m ost of H ungary following their great victory at M ohacs in 1526.
T he following year the C roatian nobility swore allegiance to the H apsburg
ruler, Ferdinand I, who had been elected king of Hungary. This did not deter
the T urks, who rapidly overran C ro atia until only the western tip of the
country rem ained to the H apsburgs. Thus m ost of C roatia passed under
Turkish rule and rem ained there until the treaties of Karlowitz (1 6 9 9 ) and
Passarow itz (P ozarev ac) (1 7 1 8 ) established H apsburg sovereignty over the
This Turkish interlude of alm ost two centuries had im portant reper
cussions. C roatia was left devastated and depopulated because it had served
as a buffer zone into which the T urks had conducted raids and from which
the H apsburgs had defended the rem ainder of their em pire. Also, the com
position of the noble class changed following the T urkish occupation. The
H apsburgs granted the recovered C roatian lands mostly to foreign nobles
A ustrians, H ungarians, and others. H ence C roatia was ruled from the seven
teenth century onw ard by a predom inantly foreign nobility and by the princes
of the church.
The overw helm ing mass of the C roatian people rem ained in servitude
to this ruling group, though not w ithout periodic outbursts. A series of
peasant revolts w racked C roatia as well as oth er countries of C entral E urope
in the sixteenth century. T he m ost serious was the uprising led by M athias
Gubec in 1573. It affected Slovenia as well as C roatia, and the dem ands in
cluded freedom and equality for all classes and a just apportionm ent of taxes
and of m ilitary service. G ubec wished to establish a governm ent in Zagreb
responsible directly to the H apsburg em peror, w hom the peasants regarded
as their protector against the feudal lords. T he uprising was speedily and
ruthlessly crushed, over six thousand serfs being killed and m any villages
destroyed. B ut other revolts broke out periodically, attesting to the deepseated discontent of the peasants and to the im pact th a t G ubec had m ade
upon their minds. In popular legend G ubec had not died. Instead, he and
his followers had been saved by the m ountains which had closed over them


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

to shield them from their enem ies. A nd now they sat behind a stone table
and d ran k red wine and would continue to do so until G ubecs beard grew
long enough to wind nine times around the table. T hen the m ountains would
open once m ore and G ubec would m arch forth with his arm y to free the
serfs from their oppressors.
A n attem pt to im prove the lot of the serfs was m ade by M aria
T heresa (1 7 4 0 -1 7 8 0 ) and her son Joseph II (1 7 8 0 -1 7 9 0 ), the H apsburg
rulers who were influenced by the ideas of the E nlightenm ent. A decree issued
in 1785 proclaim ed the serfs personally free and allowed them to move when
they wished, to m arry w ithout the perm ission of the lord, to go to school, and
to dispose freely of their m ovable property. A lthough this decree did not give
the land to the serfs, it was still too m uch for the feudal lords to accept. A nd
since they wielded enorm ous pow er they were able in large p a rt to ignore
this reform and others. A certain im provem ent in the position of the serfs
did occur in the second half of the eighteenth century. B ut the fact rem ains
th at at the beginning of the nineteenth century the C roatian people were
living under far from enviable conditions. A predom inantly alien nobility
held them in feudal bondage while a foreign pow er kept their country in a
dependent status.
The Voivodina. T he Slovenes and C roatians were alm ost all under
H apsburg rule, b u t the Serbians were m uch m ore divided. Some Serbians
lived u nder the scepter of the H apsburgs in southern H ungary. O thers were
in Bosnia-H erzegovina, w here they were subject to the T urks until 1878,
when these two provinces passed under H apsburg control. Still others were
to be found in the independent M ontenegrin enclave within the O ttom an
E m pire. The rem ainder lived under direct Turkish rule to the south of the
D anube. E ach of these groups will be considered in turn.
T he Serbs of southern H ungary lived between the Theiss and the
D anube rivers, an area know n as the V oivodina or Duchy. M ost of them
m igrated to this region after the H apsburgs recovered it during the cam paigns
of the late seventeenth century. E m p ero r L eopold 1 found the countryside
alm ost depopulated by the years of w arfare and adopted a system atic coloni
zation policy. H e preferred to keep the intractable H ungarians out of this
strategic frontier territory, so he sent, instead, m any G erm an colonists who
laid the basis for the large G erm an m inority th at was to be found there until
W orld W ar II. L eopold also encouraged the Serbians under Turkish rule to
cross the D anube and som e thirty thousand did m igrate in 1690 under
their patriarch. L eopold issued im perial charters on A ugust 21, 1690,
and A ugust 20, 1691, assuring the im m igrants full recognition as a nation
and granting them freedom to practice their religion and custom s 'a n d to
control their own adm inistration.
These privileges were not respected for long. T he Jesuits were illdisposed tow ard the O rthodox Serbs and used their influence at the im perial
court against them . A lso, the M agyars gradually gained control over the
V oivodina and utilized their authority to try to M agyarize the Serbians. In

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


the end, L eopolds charters becam e virtually dead letters and the Serbs were
left with only an autonom ous church organization.
T he Serbs counterbalanced this setback with notable econom ic gains
in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Com m erce expanded
rapidly during those decades and the Serbs took advantage of the opportunity
to gain control of m ost of the trade of southern H ungary. A new class of
m erchants appeared who had the sam e dynam ic effect upon Serbian society
as the G reek m erchants at the sam e tim e were exercising in the G reek world.
T he city of K arlow itz (Srem ski K arlovci) in the V oivodina becam e the true
center of Serbian culture, extending its influence across the D anube to the
lands still subject to the T urks. T he first Serbian books and new spapers came
from the w ealthy and progressive Serbian com m unities in Karlowitz, Buda,
and V ienna. W hen the Serbs of the Belgrade area rose in revolt in 1804 they
received vital assistance from their brethren in the V oivodina, including
money, volunteers, and trained officers and adm inistrators. T he significance
of the V oivodina for the Serbian people is well sum m arized in a popular
saying: M ontenegro with its doughty w arriors saved the Serbians from
despair; the V oivodina with its schools and presses saved them from
Bosnia-Herzegovina. T he distinguishing characteristic of B osniaH erzegovina, or Bosnia, as it is com m only called for convenience, is th at it
is a bord er area. Ju st as A lsace-L orraine is the transition zone betw een the
G erm an and F rench ethnic blocs, so Bosnia is the transition zone betw een
the Serbian and C roatian peoples and the O rthodox and Catholic religions.
In addition, there is present a strong infusion of Islam dating from the period
of the T urkish conquest. This ethnic and religious diversity explains m uch of
the storm y history of the area, corresponding to the turbulent past of A lsaceL orraine.
Bosnia began its independent statehood in the second half of the
twelfth century. It expanded rapidly, acquiring lands from both the Serbians
in the east and the C roatians in the west. Despite its im posing size, Bosnia
from the beginning was afflicted with fatal weaknesses. O ne was the centri
fugal effect of the tu rbulent nobility, who wielded inordinate pow er and left
the central authority helpless and ineffectual. A nother w eakness was the lack
of a com m on faith to bind the state together. Instead, there were the rival
O rthodox and C atholic churches as well as the w idespread Bogomil heresy.
T he latter em erged as a protest against the worldliness of the two churches
and against the social injustices of the period. T he political influence of Bogomilism was definitely disruptive, partly because of its uncom prom ising feud
with the two churches and also because of its loose hierarchical organization,
its otherw orldliness, and its pacifism. T hus Bogomilism, as we noted in C hap
ter 4, contributed substantially to the collapse of the B osnian state before the
T urkish invaders in the fifteenth century.
M any B osnian Bogomils, b o th nobles and serfs, becam e M oslem s
after the T urkish conquest. They had been persecuted by the O rthodox and


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

C atholic hierarchies and not unnaturally they now em braced Islam . Also,
there were practical considerations. T he feudal lord who becam e Moslem
could keep at least some of his form er lands and privileges, while the serf
who accepted Islam becam e a free peasant. T hus the M oslem conquerors
m ade m ore converts in B osnia than in any other p art of the Balkans. The
population rem ains today alm ost one-third M oslem .
T he beginning of the nineteenth century found Bosnia in the grip of
a sm all group of M oslem feudal lords or beys. These proud nobles tolerated
no interference from C onstantinople. T hey did not perm it the Turkish gov
ern o r to reside in the B osnian capital of Sarajevo, forcing him instead to live
in the little town of Travnik. All the C hristian peasants and a few of the
M oslem ones were serfs, com pletely at the m ercy of the beys. This feudal
system represented a degeneration of the original arrangem ents m ade by the
Turkish conquerors in the fifteenth century. A t th at tim e fiefs were granted
in retu rn for stipulated service of a m ilitary or adm inistrative character. The
fiefs w ere not hereditary and reverted to the central governm ent if the re
quired service was not forthcom ing. A lso, the peasants on the fiefs were pro
tected by law. T heir obligations were carefully defined and they had heredi
tary use of their plots so long as they tilled them and paid the stipulated dues.
This system w orked well so long as the central governm ent was able
and willing to enforce it. F rom the seventeenth century onw ard the govern
m ent was too w eak to do so. T he result was a com plete transform ation of
Bosnian feudalism . A largely new nobility appeared, consisting of powerful
officials, tax farm ers, o r m iscellaneous adventurers, m any of them form er
janissaries or spahis who had been chased out of H ungary and C roatia by
the advancing H apsburg arm ies. These individuals took advantage of the
governm ental breakdow n in B osnia to acquire fiefs in one m anner or an
other. M ore im portant, they converted the form er fiefs into private estates or
agaliks, which m eant th at the peasants lost their form er security and protec
tion. T he new beys increased the dues at will, m altreated their peasants if
they wished, and even ousted them from the land which they had cultivated
for generations. In short, the peasants had sunk to the status of serfs.
This developm ent was not peculiar to Bosnia. We shall see that, with
local variations, the sam e tren d occurred in Serbia, B ulgaria, and G reece.
In the latter areas the new private estates th a t w ere form ed were know n as
chifliks rath er than agaliks. A m ore significant difference was th a t the chiflik
ow ners in the rest of the B alkans were m ostly M oslem T urks, w hereas
the beys of Bosnia were m ostly M oslem Slavs. T his division of the B osnian
Slavs into a ruling M oslem class and a subject C hristian m ass explains in
large p a rt the slow developm ent of a national m ovem ent in Bosnia. A nother
im portant factor was the division betw een the O rthodox Serbs and the C ath
olic C roats, the form er outnum bering the latter by tw o to one.
T he B osnian beys were able to rule their province for centuries w ith
out serious challenge. They had the active support of the predom inantly free
M oslem peasantry, which constituted alm ost a third of the total population.

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


T hey could also count on religious-national rivalries to keep the rem aining
two thirds of the population divided. It was not until the m asterful Sultan
M ahm ud 11 cam e to the throne th at the beys finally were brought to order
in the 1830s. A nd the beginning of the end becam e apparent at the tu rn of
the century when Serbs and C roats began to identify them selves with the
concept of an all-em bracing Y ugoslav nationalism .
Montenegro. The M ontenegrins are a Serbian people whose coun
try form ed a p art of the m edieval Serbian Em pire. W hen th at em pire fell to
the T urks in 1389 the M ontenegrins thereafter went their own way. In 1499
the T urks overran m uch of their country, retaining control of the towns,
plains, and com m unication lines. At the same time the V enetians pressed in
from the coast line, occupying the K otor (o r C attaro ) inlet and cutting off
M ontenegro from the sea. T he M ontenegrins now were hem m ed in in their
m ountain fastnesses, where they were left pretty m uch to their own devices.
T heir country was so hopelessly p oor th at it was not w orth while for the
T urks to m ake the effort necessary to establish and m aintain effective control.
In 1515 the bishop of Cetinje, under the title prince-bishop, estab
lished a theocracy which lasted over three centuries. T he prince-bishop was
elected from am ong the m onks of the Cetinje m onastery by the clergy and
the populace. During the reign of D anilo Petrovich in the early eighteenth
century the princely office was m ade hereditary in his family. This arrange
m ent of a hereditary prince-bishop was continued until 1851, when the in
cum bent established himself as a secular ruler with the title Prince D anilo I.
In the m eantim e an im portant treaty was concluded with Sultan Selim III in
1799 establishing the full independence of M ontenegro.
B ehind this faade of political and diplom atic developm ents M onte
negro rem ained a loose association of tribes organized along patriarchal
lines. The econom y was utterly prim itive. A ccording to a rough census taken
in 1855 the population was 80,000 and the arable land am ounted to only
one fourth of one hectare per person. T he national w ealth consisted mostly
of livestock: 315,780 head of sheep and goats, 37,730 head of cattle, 6,000
pigs, 3,200 horses, and 19,300 beehives. T he chief occupation, naturally,
was anim al husbandry. In fact, it was beneath the dignity of a M ontenegrin
m ale to do anything else than tend to his flocks and bear arm s. The latter he
did with relish and with skill born of constant practice. O ther Serbians ac
know ledged th at it was the M ontenegrins th at kept them from despair during
the centuries of subjugation by keeping alight the lire of resistance. E ven
after the winning of independence M ontenegro was in the forefront during
the nineteenth-century w ars against the O ttom an E m pire. T he role of M onte
negro in South Slav and general B alkan affairs has been quite out of pro p o r
tion to h er ridiculously m eager m aterial resources.
Serbia. T he Serbians living in M ontenegro, Bosnia-H erzegovina,
and the V oivodina represented the fringe of the Serbian ethnic bloc. T he
m ain body of the Serbian people was to be found in Serbia proper, the area
to the south of the D anube and betw een M ontenegro and Bosnia in the west


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

and B ulgaria in the east. All this territory was an integral p a rt of the O ttom an
E m pire and h ad been so since the fourteenth century. T urkish rule had long
since becom e inefficient and corrupt, a heavy drag on any progress. This ex
plains in p art the fact th at the Serbs to the south of the D anube lagged
far behind their brothers under H apsburg rule in cultural and econom ic a t
tainm ents. O n the other hand, they did enjoy certain advantages. T he T urks
were decadent b u t they w ere also feeble. A revolt against them had some
chance for success. A gainst the m ore progressive and m ore efficient H apsburgs there was no hope w hatsoever. Thus it was the com paratively back
w ard T urkish-ruled Serbs who first gained their freedom and w ho developed
the nucleus for the Y ugoslav state of the future. W e will now consider the
position of these Serbs in the O ttom an adm inistrative system and the circum
stances leading to their insurrection in 1804.


T he Belgrade pashalik, which was to becom e the core of the future
Serbian state, com prised roughly the area bounded by the D anube and Sava
rivers in the north, the D rina R iver in the west, and Bulgaria in the east. Its
inhabitants were engaged m ostly in raising livestock, particularly pigs, which
grazed freely in the vast oak forests th a t covered m uch of the country. The
livestock was m arketed on the hoof across the D anube in the H apsburg
E m pire. T he pig trade alone brought about 130,000 pounds annually during
the years around 1800. It is interesting to note th at the tw o outstanding lead
ers of the Serbian revolution, K arageorge and M ilosh O brenovich, were both
engaged in this trade. If an upper class m ay be said to have existed in the
pashalik at this tim e it consisted of these enterprising pig dealers. A griculture
was definitely subsidiary to anim al husbandry. M aize and w heat were grow n
in sm all clearings in the forest, but only enough to satisfy local needs. In
fact, in some years grain had to be im ported from the H ungarian plains.
T he social organization of the Serbian peasantry was based on the
zadruga o r extended fam ily group. This has been well defined by Professor
P hilip E. M osely as a household com posed of tw o or m ore biological or
small families closely related by blood or adoption, owning its m eans of p ro
duction com m unally, producing and consum ing its m eans of livelihood jointly,
and regulating the control of its property, labor, and livelihood com m u
nally. 1 T he zadruga flourished during these years for various reasons. It
m ade possible m ore efficient production through division of labor. It afforded
greater personal and econom ic security in turbulent periods. Also, it could
m eet with a m inim um of disruption the frequent dem ands for labor from
landlords and public officials. T hus the zadruga was an ideal form of social
organization for an econom ic order in which the m arket and the use of
m oney w ere of incidental im portance. We shall see th at it becam e an anach
ronism in later years when independence had been w on, when order and

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


security had been established, and w hen a m oney econom y had replaced the
earlier n atu ral econom y.
T urkish adm inistration in the pashalik was headed by the su ltans
representative, the pasha, who sat in Belgrade. M oslem judges or cadis
resided in the towns and ruled on legal issues involving M oslem disputants.
Janissary detachm ents w ere stationed in fortified places to defend the pashalik,
which was situated on the north ern frontier of the em pire. Finally, there were
about nine hundred spahis or feudal cavalrym en who held m ost of the arable
land in the form of fiefs. T he spahis did not actually ow n the land b u t were
authorized to collect certain specified revenues from their fiefs.
T he obligations of the Serbian peasant to his Turkish overlords were
not onerous. T o the spahi he paid one tenth of his grain crop, certain labor
services, a head tax for each adult m ale in the family, and miscellaneous
levies on w aterm ills, orchards, vineyards, beehives, and the like. These
revenues were collected by the spahis agent, since the spahi alm ost invariably
lived in Belgrade o r some other tow n. T he peasant also paid taxes to the
sultans treasury, the m ost im portant being the harach, a small levy on all
m ale non-M oslem s betw een seven and sixty years of age. This and other
im perial taxes were collected with m inim um fiiction by local village headm en,
who transm itted the proceeds to the T urkish authorities.
T he T urkish adm inistrative system was based on the principle of in
direct rule. In norm al times it functioned, satisfactorily. T here was very little
contact betw een the Serbian subjects and the T urkish officials. T he towns
were the centers of alien authority and consisted m ostly of officials and sol
diers who were T urks, and m erchants and craftsm en who were m ostly T urks,
G reeks, and Jews. T he countryside was purely Serbian and it had a welldeveloped system of local self-governm ent. Each village elected a knez or
lord, and each district an oborknez or grand knez. These leaders assessed
and collected governm ent taxes and exercised police and judicial functions
of a local nature. T he relations betw een the spahis and the peasants were
norm ally harm onious. T he dues th at could be collected were regulated by
law. F urtherm ore, the peasants were free to move so that the spahis found
it expedient to treat them fairly.
T urkish rule as described above was far from burdensom e. T he Ser
bian peasants accepted it for centuries w ithout serious questioning or oppo
sition. W hen they rose in revolt in 1804 they did so not because of this
governm ental system but rath er because of its disintegration. T he im perial
governm ent had becom e so ineffectual th at it was unable to supervise
the adm inistration of distant provinces, and anarchy and terrorism spread
through the Belgrade pashalik. A t the sam e tim e certain intellectual develop
m ents were broadening the horizon of a t least a few Serbian leaders
and m aking them disaffected with the deteriorating status quo. W e shall now
consider in turn the intellectual aw akening and the adm inistrative disinte


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878


D uring the eighteenth century the Serbian w orld was transform ed

from an essentially theocratic com m unity to one m otivated by secular con
siderations and guided by secular leaders. T he roots of this change go back
to an earlier period w hen church and state were synonym ous. In 1459 the
T urks destroyed the m edieval Serbian E m pire and abolished the Serbian
patriarch ate located at Ipek (P e c ). A lm ost a century later, in 1557, the
fam ous grand vizir, M oham m ed Sokolovich (S okolli), a Serb by birth, used
his influence to restore the patriarchate. D uring the following centuries this
institution assum ed the functions of the form er Serbian governm ent. It had
its ow n law courts and adm inistrative system. W hen the occasion arose, it
conducted foreign policy and even provided m ilitary leadership. This was
the case at the end of the seventeenth century when the H apsburg armies
had penetrated deeply into the Balkans. T he Serbian patriarch, A rsenije III,
responded by calling on all C hristians to rise against the M oslem overlord.
W hen the A ustrians finally were defeated the sam e patriarch led his people
in mass m igration across the D anube.
U ntil the beginning of the eighteenth century the Serbian church was
in fact the Serbian state. But by the end of the century it had lost its posi
tion of prim acy. T he explanation is to be found partly in certain divisive
rivalries within the church and partly in the im pact of W estern secular
thought upon Serbian intellectuals.
Tw o Serbian ecclesiastical centers existed following the m igration to
southern H ungary. O ne was the patriarchate whose seat still rem ained at
Ipek (P e c ) and the other was the m etropolitanate, which was established at
K arlow itz in 1713. Both of these centers declined in prestige and effectiveness
during the course of the century. T he Ipek patriarchate was abolished by the
sultan in 1766 upon the urging of the P atriarch of C onstantinople. The latter
assum ed direct jurisdiction over the Serbian dioceses and replaced the Ser
bian hierarchy with a predom inantly G reek one. T he change was strongly
disliked by the Serbs, and the church thus lost its position as the accepted
and unchallenged representative of the nation. M eanw hile, the K arlowitz
m etropolitanate had also fallen upon evil days. Factions within the institu
tion fought bitterly against each other, and corruption and im m orality were
all too evident.
A t the same tim e th at the Serbian church was decaying the ideas of
the E nlightenm ent w ere spreading am ong the Serbs of A ustria. Students were
beginning to tu rn away from the O rthodox schools of R ussia and the C atholic
institutions of A ustria and to go instead to P ro testan t schools in H ungary
and G erm any. M ost of them returned with the conviction th at the future of
their people rested with rationalism and the W est rather than O rthodoxy and
the E ast. They pointed to the im perfections of the Serbian church on both
sides of the D anube to support their contention that national interest re

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


quired the end of church dom ination and eventually the separation of church
and state.
T he outstanding exponents of this new secularism were Dim itrije
O bradovich and Vuk K arajich, the tw o great leaders of the Serbian intellec
tual and literary renaissance. O bradovich was born in 1743 in the part of the
B anat of Tem esvar th at is now R um anian. As a boy he had a passion for
reading, but he could find nothing w ritten in his own language. A t this time
the Serbians had no new spapers and no literature of any sort in their spoken
language. Only ecclesiastical literature in the artificial C hurch Slavonic was
available. O bradovich devoured all th at he could find, particularly the color
ful lives of saints. T hese had the sam e effect upon him as dim e novels had
on A m erican boys in the nineteenth century. Ju st as A m erican lads ran away
from hom e to fight Indians so O bradovich decided to becom e a saint like the
heroes in his storybooks. He ran off to a m onastery where he becam e a monk
and stayed for three years. By the end of th at tim e he had read and reread
the m onasterys m eager stock of books. He bccam e restless and in 1760 he
set forth on travels that were to take him to all parts of Europe.
O bradovich lived m any years in G erm any and traveled widely in
England, France, R ussia and the Balkans. His observations and experiences
turned him aw ay from his earlier clerical ideals. From a Serbian m onk with
an intellectual outlook that was essentially Byzantine he becam e a m an of the
world and an enthusiastic cham pion of the current rationalism and enlighten
m ent. He now found it intolerable th at his own Serbian people should have
no literature in their own language. So he proceeded to m eet the need by
creating both a m odern Serbian literary language and a m odern Serbian lit
erature. His great contribution to the Serbian renaissance is th at he was the
first to write on secular topics in the unaffected spoken language of his
countrym en. H e narrated his own adventures, he expounded his new secular
ideas, and he translated and adapted works from other languages. His p u r
pose at all times was didactic. Being a rational m an, he w rote, I have a
G od-given and natural authority to com m unicate my thoughts to my fellow
m en and to tell them w hatever good and sensible things 1 have heard and
learned from o thers. 2 T he following passages from his w orks show that
w hat O bradovich considered to be good and sensible was in reality intel
lectual dynam ite for the clerical world from which he had originally emerged.
I have learned to think and pass judgm ent in a better and more rational
m anner on my religious beliefs and my faith. T he books of learned men have
given m e the means to distinguish orthodoxy from superstition and the pure
teaching of the Gospels from all m anner of hum an traditions and additions. . . .
I am no longer deceived by any gay colors, by gilding and by external glitter: I
recognize w hat is true and internal reverence and piety and w hat are external
custom s, ritual and cerem onies. . . .
You ask me why I have rebelled against fasts, long prayers, and the great
num ber of holidays; and wherein they offend me and m ake me take up arm s
against them. Read the Holy Gospel and you will see th at the same things


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

offended our Savior, so that he cried out against them and on that account re
buked the Pharisees, saying: W oe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites
who by fasting m ake pale and sad your faces and pray in the streets and byways,
th at men may see you. T he abuses that were com m itted in those times by those
acts are com m itted also today; and whoever receives, recognizes, and loves the
teaching of C hrist m ust hate all that Christ hated and against which he cried out.
I have spent twenty-five years with various peoples of our faith in G reece, A l
bania, Bosnia, H erzegovina, M oldavia, and other regions: practically the entire
population are conscious of being Christians of the Eastern C hurch only through
its fasts and its holidays. A nd how do they fast? Ah, my brethren, G od sees and
hears all things: we m ust tell the truth! N o one fasts except such as are extremely
poor, people who live on sterile soil and who during several m onths of the year
would think that they sat at royal tables if they merely had bread of w heat or of
maize. These poor people fast the greater part of their lives, but by grim necessity.
But those who have various fasting foods, as we term them , including olive oil
and wine, never fast at any tim e whatever. (Y ou should know th at I do not
regard it as fasting w hen a m an has no dinner but at supper eats enough for
both dinner and supper, nor when a man eats no m eat but stuffs him self with
beans and sauerkraut till his belly rumbles and sweat comes out on his brow. . . .
Let us cast a brief glance at the enlightened nations of all Europe. At
the present tim e every one of those nations is striving to perfect its own dialect. This is
a very useful object, seeing that w hen learned men write their thoughts in the
general language of the whole nation, then the enlightenm ent of the intellect and
the light of learning are not confined to persons who understand the old literary
language, but are spread abroad and reach even the villagers, being taught to the
hum blest peasants and to the shepherds, provided only that they know how to
read. A nd how easy it is to teach a child how to read his own language. . . .
I am aw are that som eone may reply to me that if we begin to write in the com
mon dialect the old language will be neglected and will gradually disappear. I
answ er: W hat profit have we from a language which, taking our nation as a
whole, not one person in ten thousand understands properly and which is foreign
to my m other and my sisters? . . . Then let them learn it! you may object.
T hat is easier said than done. H ow many people have the tim e and means to
learn the old literary language? V ery few! But everybody knows the general,
com m on dialect; and in it all who can read may enlighten their minds, improve
their hearts, and adorn their m anners. A language derives its value from the good
that it does. A nd w hat language can do m ore good th an the general language of
the whole nation? T he F rench and the Italians had no fears th at the L atin lan
guage would perish if they began to write their own languages, and indeed it has
not perished. N or will ou r old language perish because the learned m en of our
nation will always know it. . . .3

V uk K arajich continued the w ork begun by O bradovich. H e was

born in 1787 in a sm all Serbian village n ear the B osnian frontier. He was
able to get som e education, and during the revolution th at began in 1804 he
served as secretary to the illiterate Serbian com m ander of his district. W hen
the T urks tem porarily reconquered the country he lied to V ienna. T here he
m et the young Slovene scholar Bartolom eus K opitar, who encouraged him to

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


collect and study Serbian pop u lar poetry and stories. His first collection
published in 1814 was received enthusiastically in the W est, where the
R om antic m ovem ent then was at its height. T en years later K arajich published
a greatly enlarged edition in four volumes.
T he purity of language and classic tu rn of phrase which K arajich
found in the songs of the people im pressed him profoundly. By this tim e he
was an accom plished linguist, so he resolved to use his training to elevate
the vernacular to the position of a literary language in place of the artificial
ecclesiastical language. T o this end he introduced phonetic reform s into the
old Cyrillic alphabet, published his fam ous Serbian dictionary and gram m ar,
selected the H erzegovinian dialect as the purest form of the Serbo-C roat
language, and molded that dialect into the literary language of the SerboC roat people. His reform s, like those of O bradovich, were violently opposed
by the church leaders, who feared that they endangered the national culture
and religious character of the Serbian people. F o r some tim e his orthography
was actually forbidden in Serbia and his w orks were not allowed to circulate.
B ut before his death in 1864 he had won the support of the younger gen
eration and his ideas had com pletely trium phed. T oday, thanks to K arajich,
the literary language of the S erbo-C roats probably is as close to the popular
speech as th at of any people in the world.
O bradovich and K arajich by no m eans thought alike. O bradovich
was a rationalist and a cosm opolitan who wished to civilize his nation by
spreading the ideas of the E nlightenm ent. K arajich was a R om antic and a
nationalist who was interested prim arily in the custom s and folk literature of
his people and who wished Serbia to develop independently of the W est.
Y et both were opposed to the church dom ination of the past. Both were on
the sam e side on the basic issue of theocracy o r secular nationalism . In fact,
K arajich contributed enorm ously to the eventual political union of the Ser
bian and C roatian people by creating an acceptable Serbo-C roat literary la n
guage. A nd O bradovich specifically rejected religious distinctions for the con
cept of not m erely Serbian but Yugoslav nationalism .
W ho is ignorant of the fact that the inhabitants of M ontenegro, D alm atia,
H erzegovina, Bosnia, Serbia, C roatia, Slavonia, Srem, Backa, and the Banat (ex
cept for R um anians), all speak the sam e language?
W hen I w rite of these peoples who live in these kingdom s and provinces,
I m ean the members both of the G reek and of the Latin C hurch, and do not
exclude even the T urks [Moslems] of Bosnia and H erzegovina, inasm uch as reli
gion and faith can be changed, but race and language can never be. . . . M y book
will be intended for every person who understands our language and who with a
pure and honest h eart desires to enlighten his mind and to im prove his character.
I shall pay no heed w hatever to w hat religion and faith any man belongs, nor is
th at a m atter for consideration in the present enlightened age.4


Age of Nationalism: 18151878


T he intellectual revolution am ong the Serbs was confined largely to

those who lived in the H apsburg Em pire. F o r exam ple, O bradovich was born
in the B anat, and K arajich, although b orn in Serbia, spent m ost of his life in
V ienna, where he won international fam e as a scholar. H ow ever, K arajichs
relatives had little appreciation of w hat he was accom plishing. T he gulf be
tw een the Serbians on the two sides of the D anube is reflected in a letter
which K arajich received in 1816 from his hom e village. H e was inform ed
th a t freedom from the T urks had brought econom ic prosperity and th a t one
could m ake a com fortable living running a store or a tavern. O ur O brad
has com e far selling liquor you should look into his pocketbook! A nd
A m idja w ants to do the sam e as soon as he finishes the house. A nd you left
for gay V ienna to waste your time. See that you finish those books as soon
as you can. People are asking about them . A nd then com e here to live. 5
N evertheless, it was these Serbs with such a lim ited horizon who first
won freedom from foreign rule. A nd the reason was that they were driven to
revolt by the breakdow n of O ttom an adm inistration. O ne m anifestation of
this breakdow n was the rise of chifliks o r private estates in place of the
form er fiefs. As im perial authority w eakened, the spahis began to treat their
fiefs as chilliks or to acquire chifliks in various illegal ways. As in the case of
the agaliks in Bosnia, these chifliks w orsened drastically the position of the
C hristian peasantry. N o longer did they have the right to till a hereditary
plot so long as they paid a defined and custom ary tithe. Now their obliga
tions were sharply and arbitrarily increased and they had no choice but to
pay or surrender their plots. T hus a m ajor grievance of the Serbian peasantry
was this chillik system , which becam e particularly w idespread in the late
eighteenth century.
A nother grievance which also derived from the declinc of im perial
authority was the lawlessness of the janissaries. These undisciplined troops
w ere a curse for everyone in the pashalik, Serbs and T urks alike. They de
fied the pasha and victim ized even the spahis, forcefully seizing their fiefs and
converting them into personal chifliks. Partly because of this abuse m any
Serbs joined the A ustrians when they penetrated into the Balkans during the
w ar th at began in 1788. B ut dom estic com plications and the specter of rev
olution in France caused the A ustrians to accept the Sistova T reaty in 1791
and to w ithdraw beyond the D anube. The treaty did contain two provisions
designed to protect the Serbians from reprisals. T he janissaries were to be
expelled from the Belgrade pashalik and the Serbian rebels were to be granted
a general amnesty. These term s were strictly observed. The sultan w'as the
reform er Selim III, who was continually at odds w ith the janissaries and who
appointed enlightened pashas with instructions to enforce the treaty p ro
O ne of these pashas, H adji M ustafa, governed the pashalik so rea
sonably and benevolently th at he was called M other of the Serbs. But his

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


ultim ate fate is revealing of the conditions then prevailing in the O ttom an
E m pire. M ustafas predecessor had expelled the janissaries from the pashalik,
forcing them to seek asylum with Pasvan-O glu, the rebellious and separatistm inded pasha of Vidin. F rom there they conducted periodic forays against
the Belgrade pashalik. M ustafa boldly arm ed the Serbians, allowed them to
form voluntary corps under their own leaders, and with their support de
feated Pasvan-O glu and the janissaries in 1798. T he spectacle of C hristians
routing Moslems with the approval of an O ttom an pasha shocked m any
T urks. M ustafa was ordered the following year to allow the janissaries to
return to his pashalik.
This proved to be the beginning of the end for M ustafa, whose ef
forts to keep the janissaries in check were w ithout success. In 1801 he was
forced to send his Serbian levies once m ore against Pasvan-O glu. T he janis
saries took advantage of their absence to attack M ustafa in the citadel and
slay him before the Serbians could return. T o Constantinople they reported,
H adji M ustafa was a dog who sided with the rayas against true believers.
H e has received his just rew ard. w
T he janissaries now were the m asters of the pashalik. They instituted
a reign of terror, plundering T urkish spahis its mercilessly as Serbian peas
ants. The spahis finally took up arm s but they received little support from
the Serbs and were brutally suppressed. T he Serbians in desperation appealed
to the sultan for relief. Selim responded by sending a sharp rebuke to the
janissaries and w arning them that he might send against them an army not
of your faith. The janissaries concluded that the threat referred to the
Serbian levies used so effectively by M ustafa. So they began a preventive
m assacre of Serbian leaders or knezes.
W ithin a few days the heads of seventy-two victims graced the citadel
walls at Belgrade. O ne of the knezes who was able to escape the roving bands
of assassins was G eorge Petrovich, know n as K arageorge or Black G eorge
because of his sw arthy com plexion. A gigantic m an, utterly fearless, and an
outstanding leader, he quickly becam e the head of a desperate struggle for
survival. As a prosperous hog dealer he appealed to the propertied elem ents,
and as a form er haiduk he attracted the traditionally anti-T urkish outlaws.
A lso, he had fought for the A ustrians in the preceding w ar and had gained
valuable experience which, com bined with his great natural talents, m ade
him a m ilitary com m ander of the first order.
T he uprising was to prevail not only because of the qualities of its
leader but also because it was supported by all segments of the Serbian p o p
ulation. The peasants wished to be rid of the oppressive chiflik system, while
the m ore substantial elements-the priests, the knezes, and the pig dealers
were goaded on by the intolerable excesses of the janissaries. N one of these
groups was m otivated at the outset by abstract ideals of independence and
national unity. N one took up arm s against the rule of the sultan in C on
stantinople. R ather, they fought against those troublem akers who were flout
ing the sultans authority and spreading disorder in the im perial adm inistra


Age of Nationalism: 18151878

tion. T he Serbs w anted not a new o rd er b u t a return to the old order of

H adji M ustafa. In this sense the Serbian insurrection of 1804 began as a
fundam entally different m ovem ent from the G reek W ar of Independence of
C O U R SE O F T H E r e v o l t :


T he Serbian revolt was characterized by unity in aim and diversity

in m ethod. H aiduk chiefs, village knezes, and w arlike priests led their indi
vidual bands and pursued their own local objects. K arageorge operated in
the central and w ealthy S hum adia district. H e had m ore followers and dis
posed of m ore m oney and arm s than the other leaders. This advantage, to
gether with his forceful personality and initial victories, enabled him to pull
together w hat was essentially a scattered guerrilla m ovem ent.
T he fighting began in F ebruary, 1804. K arageorge and the other
leaders first attacked and overran sm all T urkish outposts. By the end of
A pril they had forced the enem y into A few strong fortresses and begun reg
u lar siege operations. T he surprised and outnum bered janissaries now sought
a settlem ent and asked for the m ediation of the A ustrian com m ander at the
frontier. A conference was held on M ay 10, 1804, in the A ustrian border
tow n of Semlin (Z e m u n ). T he Serbians professed their loyalty to the sultan
but they also rejected m ere prom ises of better treatm ent in the future. They
insisted on guarantees, dem anding th a t they should retain their arm s and
th at the janissaries should be perm anently expelled. These conditions were
n ot acceptable and the conference broke up.
T he Serbians h ad been receiving appreciable aid from the outside,
particularly from their brothers across the D anube. A t Semlin sixty w orkers
were busy turning out m unitions for the cause. T he Serbian bLshop of Novi
Sad in south H ungary contributed a sm all cannon which proved very effec
tive against the fortresses. A lso, Serbian officers in the A ustrian arm y de
serted their posts and returned to their hom eland in droves. It was on the
advice of one of these officers th at a delegation was sent to St. Petersburg in
Septem ber, 1804, to secure R ussian aid.
T he Serbian deputies found T sar A lexander am bivalent because of
the conflicting pressures of the international situation. He had no dispute with
T urkey at this tim e; instead, he was concerned about the danger of F rench
expansion from Italy to the Balkans. A ccordingly, he preferred th at the sul
tan should not be w eakened and th at the Serbs should be reconciled to their
sovereign as soon as possible. O n the other hand, the tsar feared th at if he
rejected the Serbs altogether they m ight tu rn to F rance o r A ustria. This ex
plains the equivocal advice th at the Serbians received. T hey were w arned to
be discreet and p ru d en t and to reach a peaceful settlem ent because Russian
intervention was m ost im probable. B ut they were offered arm s and officers
and were prom ised diplom atic support in C onstantinople.
K arageorge responded by sending a mission to the O ttom an capital.

T he Serbian R evolution and the South Slavs to 1878


I t proved abortive because the sultan had already decided against conces
sions. H e h ad tolerated the Serbian uprising so long as it was directed ex
clusively against the janissaries. But now the Serbians were dem anding virtual
autonom y and this the sultan refused to consider. T he m ufti in C onstanti
nople issued a fetva proclaim ing the, Serbians enemies of all M oslem s and a
veritable H oly W ar was declared, a
D uring the critical cam paigns th a t followed, K arageorge dem on
strated his talent as a strategist as well as a guerrilla leader. H e depended
on the local chiefs to harass the enem y on the advanced borders while he
kept a strong reserve force in the center of Shum adia under his personal
com m and. T hus he was able to reinforce any threatened point and to m ain
tain a general control over operations. In 1805 he repulsed a T urkish arm y
advancing up the M orava V alley from Nish. T he next year he dispersed three
arm ies attacking from the south, east, and west. In D ecem ber, 1806, he cap
tured Belgrade itself and by June, 1807, the last T urkish fortress in northern
Serbia had fallen.
M eanw hile the international situation had changed drastically and
had affected directly the Serbian cause. Sultan Selim had decided late in 1806
to throw in his lot with N apoleon. Im m ediately he was attacked on land by
R ussia and on sea by B ritain. Selim naturally wished to be rid of the Serbian
distraction, especially since the cam paign had gone so badly. H e offered to
m eet the Serbian dem ands, am ounting to virtual autonom y for the principal
ity. B ut at the sam e tim e the R ussians also m ade advances to the Serbs, offer
ing them money, arm s, and close cooperation if they would continue fighting
against the T urks. T hus the Serbian revolt becam e part and parcel of the
great diplom atic and m ilitary struggle betw een N apoleon and the Allies for
the control of E urope.
K arageorge had to choose betw een autonom y under the sultan and
cooperation with the tsar. H e chose the latter and signed an alliance with
R ussia on July 10, 1807. Serbian troops were to fight with the R ussians, and
in retu rn K arageorge was to receive m oney, arm s, and m ilitary, m edical, and
adm inistrative m issions.* This decision proved to be a turning point in the
course of the Serbian revolt. By rejecting the offer of autonom y and con
cluding an alliance w ith Russia, the Serbs h ad converted w hat had begun as
a protest against janissary oppression into a full-fledged w ar for independence.
T he R ussian alliance was a turning point for another reason. International
developm ents led T sar A lexander to reverse his diplom atic policy and to
desert his new Serbian allies, w ith ultim ately disastrous results for them . In
fact, three days before the Serbian-R ussian alliance was signed A lexander
had executed a sudden about-face and concluded the Tilsit T reaty, which
tem porarily resolved his differences w ith N apoleon. T he tsar then withdrew
his troops from Serbia and reached an arm istice with T urkey on A ugust 24,
* See Chapter 12.


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

1807. H e attem pted to include Serbia in the arm istice agreem ent but the
T urks flatly refused. T hus the Serbs were left alone to face the T urks, whose
sizable arm ies were freed from the R ussian front.
K arageorge desperately sought assistance from other quarters. H e
even w ent so far as to offer incorporation of the Belgrade pashalik into the
H apsburg E m pire in return for A ustrian aid. But the V ienna governm ent
was too greatly com m itted elsewhere to risk such involvem ent in the Balkan
Peninsula. K arageorge also sent a letter to Paris on A ugust 16, 1809, asking
for the pow erful protection of the G reat N apoleon and assuring him th at
all the South Slavs were ready to follow his lead.7 But N apoleon refused to
m ake any move th at might endanger his relations with Turkey.
F ortunately for the Serbians, the T urkish-R ussian arm istice did not
lead to peace. T he T urks refused to accept the Russian territorial dem ands
and the w ar was renew ed. B ut finally on M ay 28, 1812, the tsar hastily
signed the B ucharest T reaty with the sultan in order to face the im pending
invasion by N apoleons G rand A rm y. T he tsar again m ade a gesture in behalf
of his Serbian allies by inserting a clause calling for autonom y and full
am nesty. B ut these p ap er provisions proved worthless. W hile the Russians
w ere engrossed in their great struggle against the F rench invaders, the T urks
concentrated their arm ies in a three-pronged attack against the Serbians.
This tim e K arageorge failed to rise to the occasion. A t the height of the
cam paign he suddenly left his com rades and lied over the D anube. A ppar
ently the strain of years of fighting together with the prospect of ultim ate dis
aster proved too m uch even for his spirit. By the close of 1813 the T urks
had reoccupied Belgrade and gained control of the entire country. In a war
lasting nine years the Serbs had won their freedom and then lost it though,
as it turned out, only tem porarily.

W IN N IN G O F A U T O N O M Y : 1 8 1 3 - 1 8 3 0
A little m ore than a year after their defeat the Serbians again took
up arm s. T he hero of this second uprising was a prom inent knez, M ilosh
O brenovich. H e had not been one of the top leaders of the first revolt, per
haps because of his hatred for K arageorge, whom he believed to have pois
oned his half brother. W hen K arageorge and other chiefs fled in 1813 Milosh
chose to rem ain behind. T he pasha in Belgrade, im pressed by M iloshs local
experience and by his enm ity for K arageorge, decided to use him as an in
strum ent to get the Serbians to submit. He appointed M ilosh grand knez of
three districts, thereby giving him control of m ost of the central Shum adia
M ilosh was a m uch m ore com plex character than Karageorge. He
was an astute and inscrutable m an, adept at hiding his feelings, capable of
analyzing a situation objectively, willing to w ait for developm ents to mature,
and skillful in playing off one party or person against another. He did not
altogether lack K arageorges ability to deliver a hard blow in the field, but

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


diplom acy cam e m ore naturally to him. It was as a diplom at rather th an as

soldier that he m ade his greatest contributions to his country.
Milosh at first m ade every effort to persuade his countrym en to sub
m it to the T urks. Presum ably he hoped th at retribution might thereby be re
duced to a m inim um . B ut the returning T urks indulged in wholesale m assacres
and spoliation. T hey claim ed and seized land and wealth which they had
never before possessed. T hey system atically terrorized the countryside by
planting garrisons of janissaries and wild A lbanians in the fortresses and even
in rem ote rural areas. In 1814 a revolt broke out in one of the districts as
signed to M ilosh. H e dispersed some of the rebels and induced the rest to
subm it on a prom ise of am nesty from the pasha. The prom ise was broken
and about tw o hundred rebels were executed, some im paled, the m ore for
tunate beheaded. Finally, M ilosh him self decided that collaboration was not
feasible. On Palm Sunday, 1815, he unfurled the banner of revolt and the
second insurrection began.
M ilosh had better fortune than his predecessor. A t first he had to
fight hard against strong T urkish forces and he won four victories in quick
succession. These established the insurrectionary m ovem ent as som ething
m ore than a flash in the pan and served to attract tim id souls th at hitherto
had been undecided. T hereafter M ilosh never had to face the odds over
which K arageorge several tim es had trium phed. The reason was partly the
favorable international situation and partly M iloshs skillful diplom acy. By
June, 1815, N apoleon had suffered final defeat at W aterloo and had been
safely rem oved to St. H elena. Now R ussia was not engaged in the W est and
was free to turn to the Balkans. T he T urks therefore preferred a quick com
prom ise with the Serbs to a p rotracted w ar th at might end in Russian inter
vention. M ilosh, on his part, was ready to accept m inim al concessions and to
w ait patiently for opportunities to extract more.
A n im perial decree in D ecem ber, 1815, recognized Milosh as su
prem e knez of the pashalik and allowed the Serbs to retain their arm s and to
hold a national assem bly o r skupshtina. But pashas and spahis and Turkish
garrisons were to rem ain as before, and taxes and tribute were to continue
to be sent to C onstantinople. This com prom ise arrangem ent represented the
beginning of an eighteen-year struggle for self-governm ent, at the end of
which M ilosh finally won for his country recognition as an autonom ous prin
M ilosh h a d som e solid basis for his diplom atic cam paign. The Turks
had troops in the country but he had his arm ed Serbs who would not be
pushed around w ith im punity. M ilosh also had a strong legal argum ent in
Article V III of the T reaty of B ucharest. It had been ignored hitherto by the
T urks, but its stipulation was clear. It recognized M ilosh as Prince of the
Serbian N atio n and authorized him to adm inister the internal affairs of
the country and to settle them in concert w ith the C ouncil and Assem bly of
the Chiefs and E lders of the N atio n . 8 Finally, M ilosh had as his trum p
card the T u rk s fear of R ussia. H e played this card discreetly, know ing full


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

well th at R ussia would not move a finger unless it were to her own interest
to do so. F o r this reason M ilosh refused to entangle himself in anti-Turkish
plots w ith neighboring peoples. In fact, it was over this issue th at M ilosh had
his final and fatal difference with K arageorge. T he latter returned to Serbia
in 1817 with plans to arouse the country for a com bined Serbian-G reek revr
olution against O ttom an rule. M ilosh opposed him adam antly, being con
vinced that it was a foolish and ruinous move. Personal considerations also
were undoubtedly involved, for K arageorge was a dangerous rival. In any
case M ilosh allowed, and perhaps inspired, a band of assassins to m urder
K arageorge in his sleep and to deliver his head to the pasha.
This terrible and tragic ending of the life of a great p atriot precipi
tated the feud betw een the K arageorge and O brenovich dynasties th a t was to
w rack Serbian politics for a century and a half. O f the nine Serbian rulers
betw een 1804 and 1945 four were assassinated and four were exiled. Sup
porters of M ilosh could perhaps argue th a t in his case personal and national
interest were one. F o r he did finally win autonom y for his country, and w ith
out further w ar and devastation.
T he o utbreak of the G reek W ar of Independence in 1821 gave
M ilosh an opportunity to extract concessions peacefully. R ussian-Turkish
relations were strained throughout the G reek w ar, so Milosh corresponded
w ith the R ussians, rem inding them of Serbias aspirations. But he refused to
be draw n into the struggle despite G reek appeals for aid. O n O ctober 7,
1828, T sar N icholas forced the sultan to sign the Convention of A ckerm an
requiring the T urks to carry out im m ediately all provisions of the B ucharest
T reaty, and specifically A rticle V III pertaining to Serbia. The convention
proved to be valueless. T he T urks refused to honor it and finally the tsar
declared w ar in the spring of 1828.
T he T reaty of A drianople (Septem ber 29, 1829) which ended the
w ar required the T urks to fulfill all the stipulations of the A ckerm an C on
vention. So far as Serbia was concerned, this was actually done the following
year (A ugust 28, 1830) when the sultan issued a decree recognizing M ilosh
as hereditary prince and granting autonom y to Serbia. Taxes henceforth were
to be paid in a lum p sum with the annual tribute; the spahis were to sur
render their estates and their indem nity was to be included in the tribute pay
m ent; and the T urkish garrisons were to be restricted to the frontier fortresses.
T here rem ained only the problem of delim iting Serbias boundaries.
T he question had been raised in 1820 and again in 1826. M ilosh claimed
all the territory th at had been occupied by K arageorge, but the T urks con
tinued to hold certain outlying areas. M ilosh characteristically bided his time.
T he B osnian revolt of 1831 spread into the disputed areas and M ilosh
prom ptly occupied them to restore o rd e r. Tw o years later, on M ay 25,
1833, the T urkish governm ent, under pressure from Russia, acknowledged
Serbias jurisdiction. T hus M ilosh at last reached his final goal. Serbia was
an autonom ous principality with definite boundaries and he was its recognized
and hereditary ruler.

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


W hen the fam ous F ren ch w riter A lphonse L am artine visited the
Serbian principality in 1833 he found him self surrounded by an ocean of
forests and he im agined th a t he was in the m idst of the N orth A m erican
w oodlands. His analogy was ap t because Serbia in the early nineteenth cen
tury did in fact resem ble an A m erican frontier com m unity of the same pe
riod. T he winning of autonom y did not transform M iloshs Serbia into a
m odern state of the W estern variety. R ather, it rem ained a poor and primitive
pashalik with the physical appearance of an A m erican frontier region and
with cultural characteristics reflecting the past centuries of O ttom an rule.
T he few roads th a t w ere cut through the forests could be traversed
only on foot, on horseback, or by oxcart. Tw o roads alone were fit for
carriage traveling, b u t this did not cause hardship because only two people
boasted carriages, the pasha in Belgrade and Prince M ilosh himself. The Ser
bian peasants regarded the surrounding forests as a nuisance to be rid of as
soon as possible, and, like the A m erican frontiersm en, they set fire to vast
stands in order to scatter corn seed betw een the charred stumps. Also, the
m anner of everyday life in the M orava V alley closely resem bled th at in the
O hio Valley the sam e log cabins, hom e-m ade furniture and clothes, plain
food but plenty of it, plum brandy in place of rum , books and schools con
spicuous by their scarcity, and an abundance of m alaria and other diseases
which were treated by a com bination of hom e rem edies, barbers, and quacks.
In short, M iloshs Serbia was a typical, egalitarian, rough-and-ready frontier
society knowing neither poor m en nor rich. Foreign observers reacted to the
Serbian peasants in very m uch the sam e way as they did to the frontiersm en
in the New W orld. They are a nation of shepherds and sw ineherds, re
po rted the B ritish consul from Belgrade, and have no desire apparently to
be anything else. . . . They prefer a life of sloth and intem perance in their
native forests to the civilisation which might result from im proved industry
and intelligence. 6
In the field of governm ent the past centuries h ad left a deep im print.
M ilosh rem ained essentially a pasha, albeit a Serbian one, and he ruled the
principality as though it were his personal dom ain. T he British consul sent
to his superiors a description of M iloshs adm inistration which reveals the
degree to which the principality rem ained a pashalik.
N o constitution exists in this country nor even any description of estab
lished laws, civil or criminal; the country is governed by the absolute will of the
Prince: no contract is binding except by his power; no marriage can take place
without his approval; no transfer of property can be effected except by his sanc
tion, and no will of a deceased person is valid without the Princes examination
and approval. Again, criminals are tried by him and punishment awarded ac
cording to his decision, which in some instances is extremely rigorous. . . . The
peasantry are forced to leave their own agricultural pursuits, and often at several
days distance from their home are assembled to work for the Prince, whose es

Age of Nationalism: 18151878


tates are cultivated in this manner: no sort of recompense . . . nor even any
food or refreshment.11 1

M any foreigners and an increasing num ber of Serbians criticized

M ilosh for his autocratic adm inistration. B ut his highhandedness was not due
solely to his personal predilection for one-m an rule. Existing conditions and
historical traditions were such th at personal freedom s and the W estern type
of representative institutions were out of the question. T he w ar against the
T urks had been fought by individual local chieftains, or voivodes, each of
w hom had his band of personal followers. These voivodes naturally tried to
retain control over the areas which they had liberated. O nly by arbitrary and
ruthless m easures was M ilosh able to h alt this trend tow ard a new and law
less m ilitary feudalism . A lso, the Serbian peasants had a long tradition of
village self-governm ent, and they were unwilling to assume the obligations
and burdens required by independent statehood. They im agined th at having
got rid of the T urks they w ould be free to sit under the shade of the village
trees and drink plum brandy w ithout any interference from the outside
w orld. Again M ilosh had to resort to forceful m ethods to com bat this anarchi
cal self-centeredness of the peasants, which was as dangerous as the disrup
tive aspirations of the voivodes. T hus a strong central authority was essential
if the centrifugal forces th at threatened Serbias very existence w ere to be
overcom e.
T hese circum stances, together with M iloshs natural authoritarian
tendencies, explain the extrem ely arbitrary rule described by the B ritish con
sul. A skupshtina or national assembly did exist, but it m et only when
M ilosh sum m oned it. M ilosh retained full executive pow er, appointed all
officials, and intervened in local affairs w henever he wished. This paternalism
was tolerable so long as the T urks w ere at the gate. B ut after the RussoT urkish W ar and the T reaty of A drianople of 1829 the Serbians felt com
paratively safe and refused to bow their heads any longer. A n opposition
group gradually crystallized, basing its dem ands upon the sultans decree of
1830, the th ird clause of which stipulated th at the prince should adm inister
the dom estic affairs of the country in accord with the assembly of Serbian
notables. 11 M ilosh paid no attention to this provision and continued with
his one-m an rule. T he extent of the opposition th at developed is reflected
in the following letter addressed to M ilosh on A pril 18, 1832, by the fam ous
Serbian linguist, V uk K arajich.
No one is satisfied with you; some complain that there is no security for
property or life; others accuse you of thinking more of yourself than of the public
welfare. . . . You are capricious; even your confidants say that it is dangerous to
live by your side. Merchants complain that you have ruined them; people of sub
stance say that Karageorge treated them better. Even in your family there are dis
affected your brother Jevrem, your wife Ljubica. . . . You must make changes:
give security to officials, end the corve, train good officials, stop meddling in
trade, buy no more property abroad, improve your private life, tolerate criticism

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


of your acts. Otherwise there will be a revolt and no one will lift a finger for
you. . . ,12
K arajichs w arning proved prophetic. A disturbance broke out in
1835 and M ilosh hurriedly ordered his secretary to p repare a constitution to
calm the agitation. T he constitution was adopted but it was far too dem o
cratic for M iloshs liking. W ith the support of Turkey and Russia he abro
gated it and returned to his old ways. This cleavage w ithin Serbia led to the
intervention of the E uro p ean powers. Britain, oddly enough, supported
M ilosh while R ussia dem anded th at he accept a constitutional regime. The
explanation is not th at the R ussians had been won over to constitutional
governm ent but rath er th at they hoped thereby to secure a m eans of exerting
influence in Serbia. So long as M ilosh was the absolute autocrat he was
likely to continue on his independent course. B ut if his authority were bal
anced by that of a senate, a constitutional conflict was likely to follow and the
Russian consul then would have an opportunity to intervene decisively,
T he intention of R ussia, reported the British consul, is to im pose on
Milosh a Senate or Council of her own agents in order to secure for herself
ascendancy in Serbia. . . . T he individuals thus attem pted to be forced into
the councils of the Prince M ilosh are as despotic in their principles and as
tyrannic in their dispositions as the Prince himself can possibly b e. 13
The final decision regarding constitutional arrangem ents in the prin
cipality lay with the sultan, who had issued in 1830 the original decree grant
ing autonom ous governm ent. O n D ecem ber 24, 1838, the sultan decided in
favor of the R ussian position. He proclaim ed a constitution which provided
for a council of seventeen senators with very extensive rights, the m ost im
p o rta n t being th a t they could not be rem oved w ithout due cause. M ilosh was
com pelled to appoint senators who were either openly o r secretly hostile to
him. These individuals prom ptly dem anded that M ilosh abdicate o r face
trial on various charges. M ilosh chose to step down and on June 15, 1839,
he crossed the Sava River to exile.
If M ilosh had com m anded w idespread support w ithin the country
he might have been able to w ithstand the pressure of his political opponents
even though they w ere backed by Russia. B ut his covetousness and irascibil
ity had antagonized so m any th at his great contributions to his country were
forgotten and his d eparture was generally applauded. N ot m any years were
to elapse, how ever, before people w ere harking back to the good old days
of Prince M ilosh. And- in the end he was called back to the throne in his
seventy-eighth year am id p o p u lar acclaim and rejoicing.


18 42-1858

M ilosh abdicated in favor of his oldest son, M ilan. T he latter was

m ortally ill and died w ithout being conscious of his elevation. His brother
Michael succeeded him on July 8, 1839, but rem ained on the throne only


Age of Nationalism: 18151878

three years. H e was seventeen at the tim e of his accession; hence the Senate
appointed regents to rule the country. T he men selected were hostile to the
O brenovich dynasty. F urtherm ore, they had the backing of the T urkish and
R ussian governm ents. T he odds were too great for the youthful M ichael,
and in A ugust, 1842, he was forced to llee the country after a vain attem pt
to assert his independence.
T he Skupshtina elected in his place A lexander Karageorgevich, a son
of the great K arageorge. T he new ruler was an upright and w ell-intentioned
person but unfortunately he proved too w eak to guide Serbia through the
storm y w aters th at lay ahead. D uring the sixteen years of his reign the
senators were the real rulers of the country. T heir adm inistration was m arked
by factionalism and corruption. N evertheless, Serbia did progress appreciably
beyond the prim itive standards prevailing at the beginning of the century.
By the end of the reign, 352 elem entary schools were in operation, though
alm ost all of these were located in the towns and cities. A n A cadem y of
Science was established in 1841 and the U niversity of Belgrade in 1844.
F oreign trade increased rapidly, particularly with the H apsburg Em pire.
W estern influences for the first tim e began to m ake an im pression on the
country. This process was hastened by the senators, who were m ostly m er
chants and bureaucrats and who had little sym pathy for the traditional
paternalistic society of the past.
T he result, in b road term s, was the spread of a m oney and credit
econom y and the grow th of a W estern type of state apparatus. Leaving the
econom ic changes for later consideration and turning to the adm inistrative
innovations we find that, although they were generally necessary and inevi
table, the im m ediate effects were frequently both unfortunate and unpopular.
T he governm ent adopted in 1844 a civil code which was based on th at of
A ustria and which hastened the spread of individualistic ideas and practices.
A lso, an elaborate judicial system was established, though it functioned
poorly because of the shortage of trained personnel. M any of the judges
were barely able to decipher the code, and the clerks were often incapable
of keeping accurate records. Bribery was com m on and taken for granted.
T he police w ere popularly considered to be venal and brutal. A law in 1850
granted them authority to inflict fines, prison sentences, and even corporal
punishm ent. L ocal self-governm ent institutions which had flourished for cen
turies under the T urks now began to w ither with the appearance of appointed
officials. T he latter frequently were A ustrian Serbs, they being m ore likely to
have the requisite education and training. B ut these prechani, as they were
called (literally, over the river ), were generally unpopular. T hey brought
w ith them the autocratic attitudes and practices of the H apsburg bureauc
racy. These were foreign to the Serbian m entality, so th a t the average peasant
regarded the prechani not as fellow Serbs but as Serbian-speaking G erm ans.
These m anifold changes were unavoidable m anifestations of the breakup of
the static and self-contained society of the past. B ut to the average peasant

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


they were unsettling and uncom fortable, and he naturally looked back with
nostalgia to the days of the O ld L o rd M ilosh.
In foreign affairs the governm ent was cautious and conservative. This
was evident in 1848, when a series of revolutions swept over the C ontinent.
T he South Slavs u nder H apsburg rule were directly affected by the upheaval.
W e shall note later in this chap ter th at both the Serbians and the C roatians
took up arm s against the intolerant H ungarian nationalists and th at a strong
m ovem ent developed for the unity and the independence of all South Slavs.
T he Serbian principality could not escape the repercussions of these stirring
events across the D anube. A lexander and his chief m inister, Ilya G arashanin,
sym pathized with the objectives of the insurgent H apsburg Slavs. A few years
earlier G arashanin had prepared a m em orandum on foreign policy in which
he declared that the unification of Serbia w ith all the other subject peoples
m ust be considered a fundam ental law of the state. 14 T his objective ap
peared to be within the realm of possibility with the outbreak of the 1848
revolutions. T he A ustrian consul in Belgrade reported m uch excitem ent, in
cluding the form ation of a club of pan-Slav and dem ocratic tendencies.
O n the night of M arch 24, 1848, according to the consul, the club issued a
proclam ation calling on all South Slavs to liberate themselves com pletely
from the O ttom an E m pire and to create, since A ustria is in agony, a Y ugo
slav Kingdom under the banner of Prince A lexander K arageorgevich, con
sisting of Serbia, Bosnia, B ulgaria, C roatia, Slavonia* Syrmia, D alm atia and
Southern H ungary. 15
B ut both Russia and T urkey were unalterably opposed to Serbian
intervention in the revolutionary m ovem ent. A lexander and his ministers de
cided to rem ain safely neutral rath er than risk the hazards of defying the
two neighboring em pires. A rm s and volunteers continued to pour across the
river to the em battled H apsburg Slavs, but the Serbian governm ent rem ained
officially neutral. This policy cost A lexander m uch popularity. M any of his
subjects believed that their unredeem ed brothers under foreign yoke should
have been helped regardless of the risk. A lexanders position was not strength
ened w hen the R ussian and A ustrian governm ents sent him decorations for
rem aining neutral during the crisis.
T he Crim ean W ar furth er underm ined A lexanders standing. P opular
sentim ent in Serbia was on the side of Russia, but A lexander again felt con
strained to keep his people in check. So great was the clam or for joining
R ussia th at A lexander adm itted to the British consul th at he dared not call
the Skupshtina because of the dynastic danger. B ut with A ustrian and
T urkish arm ies poised on his frontiers A lexander h ad no real alternative to
neutrality. T he T reaty of Paris, which ended the w ar in 1856, stipulated that
the rights and im m unities of Serbia be placed u nder the collective guar
antee of the signatory pow ers. This m eant th at henceforth no Turkish de
cision concerning Serbia w ould be valid w ithout the concurrence of the
signatory powers. T o put it positively, Serbia now had a legal basis for ap
pealing to the powers.


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

T he average Serb did not appreciate this advantageous provision.

He believed only that A lexander had deserted R ussia during the w ar just as
he had deserted the H apsburg Slavs during the 1848 revolts. H e also dis
liked the senators, regarding them w ith m uch justification as corrupt and
self-seeking. A popular dem and arose for a Skupshtina to settle existing
grievances. W hen it m et in D ecem ber, 1858, it showed itself hostile to both
A lexander and the Senate. It drew up a list of grievances and appointed a
com m ission of seventeen m em bers to see to the welfare of the State. The
com m ission at once called on A lexander to abdicate. A lexander refused at
first, b u t since he was unw illing to call out the arm y he was finally forced to
surrender the throne. M eanw hile, the Skupshtina had recalled the O ld L o rd
M ilosh with the enthusiastic endorsem ent of the people.

T H E O B R EN O V IC H ES TO 1 8 7 8
D espite his age, M ilosh showed the same energy, self-confidence, and
highhandedness th at had always distinguished him. H e began by throwing
into prison his old enemies who had forced his abdication years before. T hen
he successfully defied A ustria when th at pow er tried to interfere with the
shipm ent of arm s to Serbia. Finally, he sent a deputation to Constantinople
with two dem ands: th at the T urkish governm ent should recognize his title
as hereditary and th a t all T urks w ithin Serbia should reside w ithin the
fortress bounds. Both these dem ands already had been granted in the sultans
edict of 1830 but they had not been respected in late years. Now the Turks
responded to M ilosh by resorting to their usual delaying tactics. Milosh set
tled the m atter quickly by announcing to the Skupshtina on A ugust 22, 1860,
that, regardless of the sultans suzerainty, the Serbian people thenceforth
w ould consider the two disputed points as settled in their favor and having
the force of law. T he assem bly approved this bold m ove enthusiastically.
A m onth later the old p atriarch, now in his eightieth year, was dead.
His son and successor, Prince M ichael O brenovich, proved to be the
m ost successful ruler in the history of m odern Serbia. Tall and gaunt, with
a sw arthy com plexion and a heavy beard, M ichael was a striking figure de
spite his frail health. Some contem poraries attributed his achievem ents to
good fortune and to experienced advisers rath er th an to his own abilities. But
all are agreed th at he was strong-willed and upright, and th at he had lofty
am bitions for his country. Also, he was m uch better prepared for his duties
than his illiterate father had been. H e was highly educated and had visited
the chief capitals of E urope. H e realized th at Serbia no longer could be
governed in patriarchal fashion as a private dom ain. T he law is the suprem e
authority in Serbia his m otto in governm ent M ilosh would have found
intolerable, and perhaps rightly so in his time.
M ichaels goal was tw ofold: to com plete the em ancipation of Serbia
by securing the w ithdraw al of T urkish troops from the fortresses, and to
restore the ancient Serbian kingdom by bringing under his scepter the u n re

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


deem ed brothers under T urkish rule. T o reach this goal he first had to re
organize his adm inistration and strengthen his armed forces. In 1861 he
prom ulgated a new constitution which increased his prerogatives at the ex
pense of the Skupshtina and especially of the Senate. M ichael no longer was
com pelled to choose his m inisters from the Senate or to share with it the
direction of foreign affairs. H e now was free to act quickly and authorita
tively when the occasion arose. A t the sam e tim e M ichael built up the first
regular Serbian army. H itherto local chieftains had shown up with their per
sonal followers in times of em ergency and had not hesitated to depart when
they so desired. Now M ichael secured the services of a F rench officer, Lieutenant-C olonel M ondain, who organized a standing arm y of over fifty thou
sand men. This was supplem ented by a M ilitary A cadem y to train officers, a
conscription act to provide recruits, and an incom e tax to furnish the neces
sary funds.
An opportunity to raise the question of the T urkish garrisons offered
itself on June 15, 1862, when a T urkish officer killed a Serbian youth at a
public function in Belgrade. Serbian police who intervened were fired upon
by Turkish soldiers and killed. T he Serbian population thereupon attacked
the guardhouses and drove T urkish soldiers and civilians alike into the
citadel. The next day, while feeling still ran high, the T urkish com m ander
suddenly opened fire with his cannon and bom barded the open city for five
hours. This insensate act proved a godsend for Michael. A lthough the dam age
was slight, he was able to dem and a conference of the powers in order to
end so intolerable a situation. T he conference was held in C onstantinople and
on Septem ber 4 it was agreed that the T urks should evacuate all fortresses
except those in Belgrade and three other cities. Also, all the Turkish civilians
who still resided in Serbia w ere to leave, the Serbian governm ent u n dertak
ing to com pensate those who left property behind.
In 1866 M ichael grasped another opportunity to com plete the evacu
ation of the fortresses. T he defeat of A ustria by Prussia in th at year w eak
ened tem porarily the power th at was the m ost consistent cham pion of the
status quo in the Balkans. In the sam e year a form idable revolt broke out
in Crete, and T urkey found herself on the brink of w ar with G reece. M ichael
took this favorable occasion to suggest courteously th at the sultan might
surrender the perfectly nugatory right of m aintaining garrisons in Serbia.
D iplom atic pressure by friendly pow ers induced the sultan to give his con
sent. E arly in 1867 the last T urkish soldiers left Serbian soil. N o token
rem ained of O ttom an suzerainty except the yearly tribute and the Turkish
star and crescent waving over the Belgrade citadel beside the Serbian tricolor.
A t the sam e tim e th at he was winning these concessions M ichael had
been negotiating a series of agreem ents and alliances with neighboring Balkan
countries. His aim was to create a B alkan League, drive the T urks back to
A sia M inor, and unite under his rule the liberated South Slavs. His negotia
tions and pacts constitute an im portant chapter of B alkan diplom atic history
and will be considered in C hap ter 21. Suffice it to note here th at M ichael


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

organized the first B alkan League betw een 1865 and 1868. But by the latter
year the E u ro p ean diplom atic situation h ad changed so drastically th at a
com bined assault upon T urkey no longer was feasible.
B efore another favorable occasion could m aterialize M ichael was
assassinated on June 10, 1868. Public opinion accused the Karageorgevich
family, though the responsibility for the crime rem ains a mystery to this day.
F o r Serbia the m urder represented a tragic and irreparable loss. A n able
leader was cut down at the height of his constructive activity and his suc
cessor proved utterly incapable of continuing his work.
If the assassins who m urdered M ichael hoped to secure the return of
K arageorgevich they were speedily disillusioned. T he m inistry and the Senate
m et prom ptly in Belgrade, form ed a provisional governm ent, and sum m oned
the Skupshtina. T he latter body elected to the princely post M ichaels cousin,
M ilan O brenovich. Since M ilan was only fourteen years old the Skupshtina
appointed three regents to rule the country.
M ilan had m uch to recom m end him : a handsom e appearance, out
standing intellectual ability, quick wit, ready eloquence, and a genial m anner
which endeared him to m any of his subjects and m ade M ilan so com m on
a C hristian nam e in Serbia. B ut these fine qualities were blighted by an un
fortunate boyhood. A child of divorced parents, M ilan grew up in Paris
w ithout affection or discipline. B rought to Belgrade in his adolescence, he
was left isolated in the palace w ithout brothers, sisters, or playm ates. H e was
assigned a tu to r who took his position to be a sinecure and allowed M ilan to
go his own way. The regents contribution to the young princes education
was to provide him w ith a mistress while he was still in his teens. It is not
surprising that M ilan grew up to be utterly unfitted for his position. H e was
bored by the intrigues and squabbles of Serbian politics and he regarded
existence in Belgrade as an intolerable exile from the gay life of Paris and
V ienna. D uring a visit to the A ustrian capital he referred to Serbia as that
dam ned country which caused him nothing but grief. A n English diplom at
sized up M ilan as a third-class sovereign. B ut M ilan in turn was not alto
gether unjustified when on one occasion he pointed to his regents and m inis
ters and said W hatever I am you are responsible.
D uring M ilan s m inority the regents prom ulgated a new constitu
tion. This docum ent, adopted on July 11, 1869, gave the illusion of provid
ing dem ocratic governm ent but in reality it did not do so. T he Skupshtina
was elected on a liberal franchise but its pow ers were extrem ely limited, ll
did not have the right of initiative and it could not m odify governm ent bills,
which were to be accepted or rejected en bloc. In the latter case the govern
m ent could legislate provisionally w ithout the Skupshtina and could even
prom ulgate the budget by decree. T hus true m inisterial responsibility was
out of the question, and the Skupshtina cam e to be know n as the C ham ber
of E choes.
A fter the adoption of the constitution the most im portant problem

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


was foreign policy. R ussia h ad strongly supported Prince M ichael, providing

equipm ent for his new arm y and giving diplom atic backing for his B alkan
League. U pon his assassination R ussia wished to see Prince N icholas of
M ontenegro succeed to the Serbian throne. In view of the outstanding leader
ship qualities of Nicholas and his rem arkable success as ruler of M ontenegro
betw een 1860 and 1918 there is little doubt th at the selection of M ilan was
not the best choice. Furtherm ore, it antagonized the R ussians, who turned
their favors to the M ontenegrins and the Bulgarians. In fact, the regents
adopted the liberal-appearing constitution in the hope of winning popular
support to w ithstand the R ussian pressure. W ith the sam e end in m ind the
regents established close and cordial relations with A ustria.
A bout 1870 relations betw een Serbia and A ustria cooled, largely be
cause of conflicting am bitions in the T urkish-held province of Bosnia-H erzegovina. Indicative of the new situation was M ilans visit to the R ussian em
peror in the fall of 1871. B ut M ilan was not able to win R ussian backing for
Serbian territorial aspirations. T he tru th was th at neither A ustria nor Russia
was willing to support or even tolerate any Serbian m ove th at might jeopar
dize the status quo in the Balkans. T he tw o powers, together with G erm any,
had concluded in 1872 the well-known Dreikaiserbund or T hree E m perors
League.* By the term s of this pact R ussia and A ustria undertook to refrain
from intervention in the B alkan Peninsula and to cooperate in m aintaining
existing frontiers.
M ilan was perfectly willing to accept the status quo in return for
A ustro-R ussian support for his dynasty. By this tim e his conduct and his
extravagance had m ade him so unpopular th at he needed outside support to
assure his position on the throne. B ut the difficulty was th a t a status quo
policy was unacceptable to m ost Serbians. They w anted their country to
play the sam e role in the Balkan Peninsula th at Piedm ont had played in the
Italian. They failed to see why Serbia should not be the nucleus of a new,
unified, and independent South Slav state. T he L iberal party, led by Jovan
Ristich, favored such expansionism and for th at reason enjoyed wide popular
support. M ilan, therefore, had to by-pass the Liberals and depend upon the
Conservatives. U nfortunately for him the L iberals won a substantial m ajority
in the Skupshtina in both the 1874 and 1875 elections. T he outcom e inevi
tably was friction betw een M ilan and the Liberals.
Such was the situation in Serbia when a general E uropean diplom atic
crisis was precipitated by the o utbreak of a revolt in B osnia-H erzegovina in
July, 1875. A t once a clam or arose in Serbia for assistance to the em battled
brethren across the border. M ilan strove desperately to preserve neutrality
in accordance with the wishes of R ussia and A ustria. M ost Serbians regarded
neutrality as alm ost treasonable at a tim e w hen fellow Serbians were fighting
for their freedom . A gitation m ounted to the point w here M ilan was faced
with the alternative of w ar against the T urks or revolution at hom e. He
* See C hapter 21.


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

naturally chose the form er and on June 30, 1876, Serbia declared w ar on
Serbian history now merged with th at of E urope during the years of
crisis and w ar th at culm inated in the T reaty of Berlin of July 13, 1878. The
details of the stirring events of those years are related in C hapter 21. So far
as Serbia was concerned, she suffered quick defeat at the hands of the Turks.
B ut the outcom e was precisely w hat R istich had expected and counted on.
R ussia could not stand by and accept the defeat of the Balkan Slavs. T he
pressure of public opinion forced her to intervene, and in the ensuing w ar the
T urks were beaten back alm ost to C onstantinople. Thus Serbia obtained
considerable concessions at the peace conference despite her initial setback.
T he Berlin T reaty aw arded her two hundred square miles of territory, in
cluding the strategic city of Nish, and also granted her recognition as a fully
independent state. T hus the struggle begun by K arageorge in 1804 finally
attained its fulfillment three quarters of a century later. The star and the
crescent no longer flew over the fortress at Belgrade.



The m ost im portant econom ic change resulting from the Serbian rev
olution was in the system of land tenure. This was settled on the basis of the
principle T he land belongs to those who till it. The peasants traditionally
had clung to this notion even though they had been com pelled to pay feudal
dues to their spahi overlords. W hen the dues were increased arbitrarily with
the spread of the chifliks the peasants reacted strongly. O ne of the m ain
reasons they took up arm s in 1804 was to rid themselves of landlord ex
It was by no m eans a foregone conclusion th at a successful revolt
would m ean deliverance from landlords. The wealthy peasants and livestock
traders were m ore than ready to take the place of the spahis and the chiflik
ow ners. T he fact that they did not do so was due in large part to Milosh,
who chose to base his rule on a free peasantry rather than on a landlord class.
In 1815 M ilosh abolished all chifliks, thus rem oving a m ajor source of peas
an t grievance. The spahis continued to hold their fiefs and to collect their
dues until in 1830 the T urkish governm ent, under R ussian pressure, abolished
the spahlik system. F or com pensation the spahis were to receive a little over
a third of the annual tribute received in C onstantinople from Belgrade. This
was a favorable arrangem ent for the peasants because they were not required
to pay directly for the land, to which they now acquired full legal title. In
directly, of course, they did pay. T he tenth form erly collected by the spahis
now went to the state as a regular tax. The proceeds were used to defray
the expenses of the new state ap paratus and also to provide for the tribute
to C onstantinople, which included the indem nity to the form er spahis.
M ilosh not only ended the feudal bondage of the peasants but also
took positive m easures to repair the depredations of the war and of T urkish

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


misrule. The country was largely depopulated, and extensive areas lay un
cultivated. M ilosh attracted new settlers by offering free land, tem porary tax
exem ption, and security for life and property. A veritable land rush ensued,
and, as usual, the m ost wealthy and influential obtained the choicest land.
But in 1820 M ilosh decreed that anyone possessing m ore land than he could
w ork m ust surrender it for redistribution. It should be added th at M ilosh and
a few of his cronies evaded the law by using forced labor on their estates.
B ut with this exception, which is understandable in the Serbia of th at period,
the land settlem ent was definitely favorable for the peasantry.
The peasants were not always able to keep the land th at they had
obtained. In Serbia, as in other Balkan countries, the nineteenth century
w itnessed the growth of a m oney and credit econom y with its m anifold con
com itants the appearance of the village m erchant and usurer, increasing
econom ic differentiation and peasant indebtedness, and eventually the dis
possession of peasant families. This tren d induced legislation designed to
prevent the pauperization of the Serbian peasantry. In 1836 Milosh decreed
th a t a house, a certain am ount of land, two oxen, and a cow were essential
for every peasant family and could not be foreclosed for the paym ent of
debts. This legal protection was not included in the civil code of 1844 and
peasant indebtedness m ounted rapidly. T he econom ic crisis following the
C rim ean W ar w orsened the situation drastically and aroused m uch popular
agitation. Political freedom was declared a sham if the peasants were allowed
to fall into the bondage of a new and m ore evil spahi, the usurer, who
claim ed not merely the tenth but the p easants whole property.
This outcry produced new legislation for the protection of the peas
ant. Laws in 1860 and 1861 prohibited the foreclosure of certain farm
im plem ents, draft anim als, and roughly one hectare of land. In 1873 an
im portant bill increased the coverage generously to include enough land,
buildings, livestock, and farm equipm ent to provide a reasonable living for
a peasant family. T he bill w ent further and forbade the peasant to sell his
protected m inim um of land and farm property, or to use it as collateral for
credit. A n exception was m ade only if the peasant abandoned farm ing for
another profession. Supplem entary laws prohibited foreclosure for nonpay
m ent of taxes and also forbade the opening of com m ercial stores in rural
This well-m eaning legislation proved to be far from effective. One
reason was th at the governm ent failed to provide adequate agricultural credit.
T he peasants consequently h a d to forgo legitim ate loans, in which case their
production was ham pered, o r else had to resort to various artifices in order
to borrow from loansharks. N o less than fourteen dodges were em ployed by
both usurers and peasants to evade the laws. A lso, the natural process of
the evolution of an underdeveloped country could not be stopped by legal
m easures or by pious adm onitions to preserve the traditional way of life.
I inally, the rapid growth of population in the nineteenth century accelerated
I lie trend tow ard the fragm entation of peasant property. All these factors

/ t i ;r o f N dlloililliM It

I N l .l

IN 7 fi

com bined to make Serbia a country of predom inantly dw arf farm s. The
process was well on its way by 1878. It had becom e a serious problem by the
end of the century and it rem ained serious and unsolved at the time of W orld
W ar II.
T he change in the land tenure system did not affect farm ing tech
niques. T he peasants lacked the knowledge, the m eans, and the incentive to
try new m ethods. F o r decades they continued to till the soil in the same
m anner as they had during the preceding centuries under the Turks. The
grow th of population created a need for m ore cropland. T he peasants com
m only m et the need by burning dow n the forests. In the early years they
farm ed the cleared land for a while and then m oved on to repeat the w aste
ful process after the m anner of the A m erican frontiersm en. T he governm ent
did not adopt effective m easures for conserving the forests until 1867.
T he peasants com m only grew corn to feed themselves and their pigs,
the latter being the m ost im portant cash crop until the end of the century.
E ach plot also h ad a few plum trees which the peasant needed to replenish
his stock of shlivovitsa, a fiery plum brandy. Potato culture was new and not
popular. H oping to destroy the prejudice against them , Milosh decreed that
each peasant should grow a patch of potatoes. But even by 1900 they had
not becom e as p opuluar in Serbia as to the east in Bulgaria. T he practice of
letting some land lie fallow was universal. Such rotation of crops as occurred
was unscientific, and few peasants used m anure as fertilizer. Sheep, not pigs,
were the m ost com m on dom estic livestock. T heir m eat, milk, and wool m ade
them valuable for the peasants but there was no export m arket.
T he winning of autonom y had little effect on Serbian com m erce.
E xports were shipped up the D anube to the m arkets of the H apsburg E m
pire and consisted prim arly of swine, cattle, and leeches. T he latter were
widely used for m edical purposes at this tim e and were shipped as far as
Paris. Im ports included A ustrian hardw are, sugar, and cloth; Russian ec
clesiastical articles; salt from W allachia; and Turkish coffee. T he im portant
pig trade with A ustria resulted in a favorable balance for Serbia and helped
M ilosh to pay the tribute to the sultan in cash.
M ilosh ham pered Serbian trade because of his m onopolistic prac
tices. D espite his m any great contributions to his country he always regarded
it as his pashalik. T rue, he was a Serbian rather th an a Turkish pasha, and
he certainly had the interest of his people at heart. N evertheless, a pasha he
rem ained to the end. H e kept for his own use the form er personal lands of
the sultan. H e used his authority and pow er to m onopolize the salt im ports
from W allachia and to control m ost of the pig trade with A ustria. He m ade
no distinction betw een the state treasury and his private purse, investing the
Serbian treasury in V iennese banks in his ow n- nam e. P art of his vast for
tune he used to buy large estates in W allachia as a hedge in case of future
political setbacks.
W hen M ilosh abdicated in 1839 the bureaucrats and m erchants took
over the direction of the state. T hey abolished the form er m onopolies and

The Serbian R evolution and the South Slavs to lN7ft


encouraged com m erce and closer econom ic ties with the W est. In 1844 they
instituted a civil code based on the A ustrian code which in tu rn followed the
( 'ode Napolon. T he new code paid little heed to Serbian custom s and
helped to spread individualistic ideas and to break up the traditional p ater
nalistic society. T he tem po of econom ic activity accelerated appreciably.
Foreign trade increased from 13.5 m illion francs in 1842 to 68 m illion in
1868 and 86 million in 1879. B ut the national econom y still rem ained com
paratively prim itive, as is illustrated by the fact that only foreign coins circu
lated in the country before 1868. In th a t year the first Serbian copper coins
were m inted, and in 1873 the first silver coins. B oth, it should be added,
were m inted in V ienna.
F actory industry scarcely existed in Serbia before 1878. V arious
factors explain this, including the small dom estic m arket, inadequate tran s
portation, dearth of capital, lack of independent tariff authority, and the
apathy of Serbian statesm en. H andicrafts flourished. T he m ost prom inent
craftsm en were the smiths, tanners, furriers, shoem akers, m asons, saddlers,
and potters. A ccording to the 1866 census they num bered 21,751, o r 1.8
per cent of the total population. Shortly afterw ard they began to feel the
com petition of foreign products as im ports increased. Also, a shift from
T urkish to W estern social custom s affected Serbian artisans. T hose who had
m ade Turkish sofas or fezzes, for exam ple, could not shift easily to a W estern
type of furniture or hats. N or could they com pete with the A ustrian factories
producing these W estern com m odities on a mass scale. Y et Serbian crafts
m en did not disappear or even decline in num bers. By 1900 they had in
creased to 54,007, a rise p roportionate to the growth of population. C ertain
types of craftsm en did suffer, generally those facing foreign com petition or
producing com m odities which were becom ing unfashionable. But others
prospered and increased, particularly the building and service trades, which
could fit into a m ore urban and W esternized society.
Social institutions also underw ent change during the nineteenth cen
tury. T he general trend of econom ic, political, and intellectual developm ent
underm ined the traditional zadruga form of social organization. T he revolu
tionary w ar took men away from their hom es and exposed them to new ideas
and custom s. Also, the establishm ent of the Serbian state assured personal
security and thus elim inated one of the reasons for the existence of the
zadruga. T he 1844 civil code was little m ore than a translation of the A us
trian code, and as a result the zadruga appeared in it as an exceptional
rath er than an integral feature of Serbian society. In. fact, the code prescribed
the m ethod by which the zadrugas might be dissolved. Finally, the spread of
a m oney and m arket econom y w eakened the zadrugas. M ore specifically, the
peasants were needing m ore m oney to pay the m ounting state taxes and to
buy the new com m odities th at were now available to them , such as textiles,
clothing, footw ear, jewelry, and household furniture and utensils. As a rule,
the zadrugas were unable to increase production sufficiently and to m arket
enough produce to m eet the dem and for m ore m oney. T he m em bers then


Age of Nationalism: 18151878

were likely to agitate for the dissolution of the zadruga in the belief that
thereby some of their econom ic problem s m ight be solved. Thus by 1878 the
zadrugas were on the way out and by 1914 they no longer were an im portant
factor in the econom y and the social life of the country.

H A PSB U R G SLAVS TO 1 8 7 8
H aving traced the evolution of the Serbian principality from its
origins under the T urks to the winning of full independence in 1878, we turn
now to consider those South Slavs who were living under H apsburg rule.
T he first m ajor developm ent to affect the H apsburg Slavs was the establish
m ent of N apoleons Illyrian state in 1809. In C hapter 12 we saw th at the
adm inistrative, econom ic, and cultural reform s of the French aw akened
the local population and provided a basis for the Illyrian m ovem ent of the
1830s and 1840s. T he H apsburgs, who inherited the Illyrian Provinces after
N apoleons dow nfall, stim ulated the Illyrian m ovem ent by their repressive
m easures.
Im m ediately they erased, as with a great sponge, the reform s insti
tuted during the French regime. Priests once m ore becam e schoolm asters and
nobles again assum ed their old titles and privileges. This restoration of a
discredited past naturally led to the glorification of the brief Illyrian inter
lude. People forgot the conscription and the heavy taxes im posed by the
F rench. They rem em bered only the prosperity and creative activity and free
cultural expression. A nd with the passage of tim e they attributed these gains
not to enlightened French rule but rath er to the fact th at under N apoleon
they had been united for the first tim e in centuries. Thus the idea becam e
deeply rooted th at their fortunes in the future depended on their unification
in a new Illyrian state. A nd the more reaction set in under the H apsburgs the
stronger becam e this Illyrian legend.
T he legend was reinforced by the w ork of South Slav scholars and
w riters. O utstanding am ong these was B artolom eus K opitar, author of
Slovene gram m ars and linguistic studies and creator of the Slovene literary
language. K opitar stim ulated V uk K arajich to undertake his studies which
contributed so m uch to the creation of a uniform Serbo-C roatian literary lan
guage. Ljudevit G aj, a C roatian, was not so distinguished as a scholar but he
was m uch m ore effective as a journalist. H e published a num ber of political
and literary periodicals with such titles as Croatian G azette, Illyrian G azette,
and National Journal. In these he carried on continual propaganda in favor
of South Slav unity. H ow this unity was to be attained he was not certain.
Som etim es he looked to A ustria and at other times to Russia. In any case
G aj contributed greatly to an Illyrian m ovem ent which grew steadily in the
eighteen thirties and forties.
Such was the situation am ong the H apsburg Slavs when news arrived
of the F ebruary, 1848 revolution in Paris. R epercussions were im m ediate
and far-reaching, the m ost im portant being the abolition of serfdom in the

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


H apsburg provinces in A pril, 1848. T he step was taken with little hesitation
because serfdom by this tim e had becom e econom ically and politically o u t
m oded. Even the com paratively backw ard South Slav lands of the H apsburg
E m pire had shifted from a predom inantly natural econom y to a m oney econ
om y producing for the m arket. In such a milieu agriculture had to becom e
m ore productive and com petitive, but it could not do so on the basis of serf
labor. Also, the serfs were becom ing increasingly unm anageable. W ith the
news of the Paris revolt they simply refused to provide any longer the labor
and other dues of the past. T hus the proclam ation for the liberation of the
serfs represented little m ore than official recognition of an accom plished fact.
Liberation did not m ean distribution of all the land. The peasants
kept the plots they form erly had tilled for themselves. The gentry received
com pensation from the state for these plots and they also kept all the re
m aining land as well as m ost of the forest property. T hus the large estates
and the political power of the landed aristocracy survived the 1848 revolu
tion. In fact, they survived in C roatia and the V oivodina until the Yugoslav
agrarian reform of 1919, and in H ungary proper until the end of W orld
W ar II.
The political developm ents am ong the' H apsburg Slavs in 1848 were
spectacular and attracted wide attention. T he Slavs tried to take advantage
of the revolutionary upheavals to gain autonom y and unity. But they were
forced finally by intolerant H ungarian nationalism to stand with the H apsburgs on the side of reaction. W hen the H ungarian parliam ent passed laws
in M arch, 1848, establishing a constitutional regime, it ignored com pletely
the existence of C roats, Serbs, and all other non-M agyar people. Likewise,
when the H ungarians proclaim ed their independence on April 14 they over
looked the political aspirations of the Yugoslavs, even though they had been
m ade abundantly clear by this time.
Both the Serbians and the C roatians reacted violently against this
uncom prom ising pressure. R epresentatives of the V oivodina Serbs appeared
before the H ungarian Diet in Pressburg (B ratislava) on A pril 8 and pre
sented their dem ands. They expressed sym pathy with the H ungarian struggle
for freedom but insisted on recognition of their own national rights. Louis
K ossuth, the fam ous H ungarian o rato r and leader, replied th at the M agyars
would do their best to respect Serbian rights but insisted th at only the
M agyar language could bind the different nationalities together. T hen, the
Serbs answ ered, we m ust look for recognition elsewhere than at Pressburg.
In th at case, replied K ossuth, the sword must decide. T he Serbs, re
torted one of the deputation, were never afraid of th a t. 1U
T he following m onth, on M ay 13, 1848, the Serbians convened a
national assembly at K arlow itz (Srem ski K arlovci). It developed into a great
dem onstration of Y ugoslav unity. O ver fifteen thousand delegates gathered,
including not only Serbs but also C roats, B ulgarians, and even Czechs and
Poles. The original charters issued by L eopold I in 16901691 prom ising
full autonom y to the Serbs were solem nly read aloud before the assembled


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

crow d. T he assembly passed a series of resolutions declaring the Serbian n a

tion politically free and autonom ous und er the H ouse of A ustria and the
C row n of H ungary. T he occasion was m arked throughout by close SerboC roat cooperation. Byzantium and R om e, declared a C roatian spokesm an,
succeeded in separating the Serbs and the C roats, but the fraternal tie which
unites them is so strong th at henceforth nothing in the world will be able to
sever it. 17
M eanw hile, the C roatians were equally aggressive under the leader
ship of B aron Joseph Jellachich, who h ad been appointed governor of C roatia
by the em peror on M arch 23. T he appointm ent proved to be of decisive im
p ortance because the b aro n rallied the South Slavs behind the H apsburg
m onarchy and thereby cut off the M agyars from the sea and from direct in
tercourse with liberal E urope. Jellachich im m ediately sum m oned a C roatian
assembly which m et in A gram (Z agreb) in June, 1848. He welcomed the
delegates with an im passioned harangue. T he fraternal union of 800 years
[with H ungary] prom ises us a friendly solution of the prevailing dispute. But
should the M agyars assum e the role of oppressors against us . . . we shall
prove to them with w eapons in our hands, th at the tim e is long past when
one nation can rule over another. Away, then, with the M agyar regime of
com pulsion we did not recognize it even before M arch 15, but after the
M arch Revolution we broke and annihilated it. 18 A Serbian deputation at
tended the m eeting and both Jellachich and G aj supported proposals for
S erbo-C roat unity. We are only one n ation, declared G aj, there are no
longer either Serbs or C roats. 19 T he assembly declared all decisions of the
H ungarian governm ent to be null and void insofar as they were at variance
with the rights of C roatia. Jellachich m et later with H ungarian representatives
but no com prom ise could be reached.
By this tim e the im perial arm ies had crushed the revolution in Italy
and the H apsburgs felt strong enough to take the offensive against the M ag
yars. In doing so they counted heavily on the H ungarian-S outh Slav rift. On
Septem ber 1, 1848, the H apsburgs revoked the earlier concessions th at they
had m ade to the M agyars. A t the sam e time Jellachich crossed the D rava
and attacked the H ungarians at the head of a South Slav army. But now he
was fighting for H apsburg interests rath er th an for Yugoslav unity and inde
pendence. V ienna had succeeded in turning the force of Serbo-C roat nation
alism against the H ungarian revolution.
T he V oivodina Serbs were likewise used for the preservation of the
H apsburg Em pire. Some of their younger and m ore radical leaders caused a
little difficulty because they wished to be rid of A ustrian as well as H ungarian
rule. B ut P atriarch R ajachich, who was old and conservative, insisted on
keeping the Serbian m ovem ent w ithin the im perial fram ew ork. W ith the sup
p o rt of Jellachich he was able to oust the young Serbian leaders from the top
posts and to replace them with A ustrian officers. Thus the Serbs, like the
C roatians, fought for the defense of the em pire.
T he 1848 revolutions greatly stim ulated the H apsburg Slavs and

The Serbian Revolution and the South Slavs to 1878


evoked a popular Yugoslav m ovem ent. B ut powerful forces com bined to

prevent any significant modification of the status quo. T sarist R ussia was as
opposed to disruption of the H apsburg E m pire by the South Slavs as she was
to its disruption by the M agyars. As noted earlier in this chapter, the Serbian
governm ent was forced to rem ain neutral under R ussian and Turkish pres
sure. Also, the intolerant nationalism of the M agyars blocked united action
by the subject peoples th at might have had some chance against the H apsburgs. These factors, together with the conservative tendencies of B aron
Jellachich and Patriarch R ajachich, induced these leaders to bring the pow er
ful force of South Slav nationalism squarely on the side of the em peror. A
T heir decision contributed substantially to the final trium ph of the
H apsburgs in 1849. B ut their rew ard was reversion to the prerevolutionary
status quo, at least in regard to political arrangem ents. H ungarian rule in
C roatia was ended only to be replaced by A ustrian. H aving suppressed the
M agyar revolution, the H apsburg m inisters were unwilling to tolerate C ro a
tian nationalism , which could becom e obstreperous in the future. So they
violated w ithout com punction the prom ises they had m ade to the C roats d u r
ing the revolutionary period. They were not as apprehensive about the V oivodina Serbs, so they issued a decree on N ovem ber 18, 1849, separating the
D uchy from H ungary and granting it autonom y. But the concession was hol
low because the autonom y was extrem ely restricted and the boundaries of the
D uchy were so draw n as to include large num bers of Rum anians and M agyars
as well as Serbs. T he purpose, of course, was to employ the traditional H aps
burg tactic of divide and rule.
T he next great developm ent affecting the H apsburg Slavs after the
1848 revolution was the A ustro-H ungarian Ausgleich or C om prom ise of
1867. D efeats in Italy and G erm any led the V ienna statesm en to seek a set
tlem ent with the m ost articulate and dangerous of the m inorities. The result
was the Ausgleich, which transform ed the H apsburg m onarchy into the
A ustro-H ungarian or D ual M onarchy. T he term s of the Com prom ise re
stored both C roatia and the V oivodina to H ungarian rule while D alm atia
rem ained under A ustrian rule. T he South Slavs naturally refused to accept
this joint A ustro-H ungarian dom ination. D uring the period from 1867 to
1914 they waged a steadily m ounting cam paign for autonom y. But the cam
paign was not coordinated. T he various South Slav groups fought individual
struggles which varied according to local conditions.
T he Slovenes w ere the m ost conservative and unspectacular. They
had rem ained quiet during the 1848 disturbances and they continued to be
restrained during the following decades. O ne reason for this was th at they had
always been under A ustrian dom ination rather than H ungarian, which was
m ore intolerant and provocative. A nother reason was th at Slovenian politics
were com pletely dom inated by the Slovene Peoples party, a conservative
C atholic organization which preferred peaceful tactics and piecem eal con
cessions to sweeping proclam ations and revolutionary m ethods.
In the H ungarian p art of the em pire relations betw een the ruling


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

M agyars and the subject Serbs and C roatians becam e steadily worse. T he
V oivodina Serbs were left only with church autonom y and they steadily lost
ground to the H ungarian and G erm an elem ents in the Duchy. They also de
clined in im portance in the Serbian w orld as a whole. A t the beginning of the
century K arlow itz (Srem ski K arlovci) and Novi Sad w ere the great Serbian
cultural centers, but in later decades these cities gave way to Belgrade and
T he M agyars were able to thw art the com paratively isolated V oi
vodina Serbs, but they had much m ore difficulty with the C roats. As soon as
the Ausgleich was arranged, elections were held in D ecem ber, 1867, for the
C roatian Diet. T he M agyars m ade liberal use of oats and the w hip and se
cured a m ajority of unionist deputies who were am enable to H ungarian rule.
T his Diet accepted in 1868 a constitutional arrangem ent known as the N agodba or Com prom ise, which defined the relations between C roatia and
H ungary. It allowed for a considerable degree of self-governm ent, m ore than
was perm itted in the Y ugoslav state after W orld W ar I. N evertheless, C roatia
was an integral p art of the H ungarian kingdom and this antagonized the
nationalist leaders, who w anted either an independent C roatia or an inde
pendent Y ugoslav state. In the elections of 1871 the antiunionists won a large
m ajority and they w ent so far as to declare the N agodba null and void. In
the sam e year a m inor insurrection broke out which had to be put dow n by
m ilitary force. This opposition increased still m ore following the H apsburg
occupation of B osnia-H erzegovina in 1878. By the end of the century the
situation becam e alarm ing as Serbs and C roats joined forces and became
increasingly m ilitant in their struggle a struggle th at was to contribute sub
stantially to the eventual dissolution of the H apsburg Em pire and to the
establishm ent of the new state of Yugoslavia.

15. Greek Revolution and Independent Statehood

to 1878

J .HU r e v o l t o f t h e G r e e k s in 1821 followed th at of

the Serbs in tim e but not in im portance. T he G reek revolution was a m uch
m ore significant affair for E urope as well as for the B alkan Peninsula. T he
Serbian revolution involved simply the control of a B alkan pashalik. But the
G reek revolution, because of the strategic location of the G reek lands, raised
basic questions of N ear E astern strategy and brought the great powers into
sharp and open conflict. Likewise, the Serbian uprising was essentially a local
m ovem ent with little effect on the rest of the em pire. But the G reek insur
rection had w idespread and lasting repercussions, the reason being th a t the
G reeks had played a m uch m ore im portant role in im perial affairs than had
the Serbs.
It is true that the great m ajority of the G reeks, like the other rayas,
were simple peasants. B ut there was also a small m inority th at was so ex
traordinarily active and highly placed th at it might well be considered to have
been alm ost as influential in the T urkish E m pire as the T urks themselves.
This m inority controlled the larger p art of the com m erce of the Balkan Pen
insula; dom inated com pletely the O rthodox C hurch to which m ost of the
Balkan C hristians belonged; enjoyed a m onopoly of educational and cultural
institutions in the B alkan lands; and also filled some of the highest adm inis
trative and diplom atic posts in the O ttom an bureaucracy.
It follows th at the G reek revolution was a com plex m ovem ent in
volving m ore th an an outb reak of desperate peasants. In order to grasp its
com plexity it is necessary to realize that, in effect, two G reek worlds existed
w ithin the O ttom an E m pire the one an im perial world of Phanariote adm in
istrators and O rthodox prelates with its headquarters in C onstantinople, and
the other a peasant w orld of illiterate and poverty-stricken rustics living in
the G reek provinces. We shall now consider each of these worlds in turn.



Age oj Nationalism: 1815-1878


The G reek P hanariote adm inistrators and O rthodox prelates were at

the height of their pow er in the eighteenth century. A t th at tim e they were
by far the m ost influential of the various subject peoples of the em pire. B ut
this had not always been the case. In the sixteenth century the South Slavs
rath er than the G reeks h ad been especially prom inent in im perial affairs. O ne
reason for this was the T urkish conquest of H ungary (1 5 2 6 ), which finally
persuaded the South Slavs th a t T urkish rule was durable and th at they had
better accom m odate them selves to it. A nother reason was that, whereas few
G reeks accepted Islam , a large p roportion of the Slavic inhabitants of B osniaH erzegovina turned M oslem and thereby becam e eligible for high office. A
large num ber did, in fact, attain the highest ranks. It was at this time th at
Sokolovich (Sokolli) becam e grand vizir and used his influence to secure the
establishm ent of the Serbian p atriarchate in 1557. Serbian troops were ex
tensively used by the T urks to m an the n orthern frontier, and the Serbian
language was a com m on m edium for diplom atic correspondence. In fact, a
sixteenth-century observer w rote: In o u r period the O ttom an rulers esteem
so highly the D alm atians th at they appoint them Pashas of provinces and
fleets and arm ies, and also G rand Vizirs who govern the whole E m pire, and
they give to them for wives the daughters, the sisters and the nieces of the
G ran d T urk [the Sultan], . . . T he Slavic nation rules the O ttom an E m pire. 1
If the Slavs ruled the em pire in the sixteenth century, the G reeks had
taken their place by the eighteenth. O ne reason for this was th at the Slavs
discredited themselves by supporting the H apsburg arm ies whenever they
crossed the D anube. A no th er reason was th at from the m id-seventeenth cen
tury onw ard the T urks began to encounter form idable com plications in the
conduct of their foreign relations. N o longer were they able to dictate term s
to their neighbors. F o r the first tim e they had to carry on protracted and in
volved diplom atic negotiations. But they were not equipped to do this be
cause hitherto they had regarded W estern languages and cultures as being
unw orthy of their attention. T hus they found it necessary now to employ the
services of those who had knowledge of foreign countries and foreign lan
guages. It was under these circum stances th at the so-called Phanariotes came
to be attached as secretaries and interpreters to the staffs of O ttom an officials
and officers.
T he term P h an ario te is derived from the extrem e northw estern
corner of C onstantinople the lighthouse or P hanar district. T he Patriarch
h ad established his headquarters there in 1601 after several moves following
the loss of St. Sophia to the T urks. G radually the district becam e the pre
serve of G reek m erchants as well as of G reek clergy. These m erchants, or
P hanariotes, as they cam e to be called, prospered greatly. They becam e im
perial tax farm ers, they rented the salt m onopoly, undertook contract works,
becam e purveyors to the court, and gained control of the Black Sea wheat
trade. These activities brought them into frequent contact with the W estern

Greek Revolution and Independent Statehood to 1878


w orld, and they acquired a firsthand knowledge of W estern custom s and

E ntering the O ttom an bureaucracy at the lower levels, they gradually
rose to the topm ost ranks. A certain Panayiotakis N ikousis was appointed
the first G rand D ragom an of the Porte, a title th at literally m eans Chief In ter
preter but which, in practice, involved the functions of an under secretary for
foreign affairs. Nikousis was succeeded by his protg, A lexander M avrokordatos, who was to win fam e as the negotiator of the 1699 K arlowitz
Treaty. A nother high office regularly entrusted to the Phanariotes was that
of D ragom an of the Fleet, or U nder Secretary for the Navy.
From 1711 onw ard the Phanariotes also served as governors of the
M oldavian and W allachian Principalities with the title of hospodars or
princes. Before this date the Principalities had paid tribute to the sultan in
return for recognition of their com plete autonom y, including the right of the
R um anian boyars or nobles to elect their own hospodars. T his arrangem ent
prevailed until T sar P eter the G reat invaded M oldavia, and the reigning
hospodar, D em etrius C antem ir, w ent over to his side. This incident led the
O ttom an governm ent to strengthen its control over the Principalities, which
were now assum ing a new strategic im portance as bulw arks against the ex
panding Russian and H apsburg em pires. A ccordingly, Phanariote adm inis
trators were appointed regularly as hospodars of the Principalities from 1711
until the outbreak of the G reek revolution in 1821.
T he P hanariotes not only controlled high and lucrative positions in
the O ttom an bureaucracy but also infiltrated and to a large degree dom inated
the C onstantinople P atriarchate itself. D uring the Byzantine period church
offices, with alm ost no exception, had been closed to laym en. B ut now these
offices were eagerly sought after by the w ealthy G reek families of C onstanti
nople because, under the conditions of O ttom an subjection, they offered the
only m eans for attaining social status and a m easure of security. In fact, the
origin and developm ent of the Phanariote aristocracy may be traced in part
to its early associations with the Patriarchate. B ut having gained a foothold,
the Phanariotes soon were able, with their w ealth and governm ent connec
tions, to dom inate the entire ecclesiastical structure. By the end of the
seventeenth century these laym en filled all the im portant adm inistrative offices
of the church, which m eant th at they m anaged church properties and rev
enues, supervised the m onasteries, safeguarded the valuable liturgical objects,
and so forth.
H aving gained control of the church adm inistration, the Phanariote
laym en then proceeded to intervene in the election of bishops, archbishops,
and even patriarchs. By exerting pressure upon the C hurch Synod, which
elected the P atriarch of C onstantinople, they were able to influence de
cisively the selection of the head of the church. They were able to do this
easily and effectively because of their com m anding position w ithin the church
and their wealth and influence w ithout. A contem porary observer rem arked
bitterly th at the Phanariotes who ought to aspire for the good of the Church,


Age of Nationalism: 18151878

w ant to deprive it of the income of a see! and, m oreover, in order to satisfy

their conceit, they threaten to bring about the fall of the Patriarch. . . .
Strange and reprehensible conduct against the spirit of C hristianity; however,
it is a fact now and will be repeated in the future. M ay G od have mercy on
all of us and on you. 2
In self-defense against this Phanariote intervention the clergy secured
a firm an from the sultan in 1741 providing th a t the selection of the Patriarch
be subject to the approval and recom m endation of five specified m etropoli
tans. This arrangem ent was adopted and continued to prevail until the sec
ond half of the nineteenth century. T hus the clergy curbed Phanariote en
croachm ent by concentrating authority in a small body the so-called System
of the Elders. P atriarch Cyril V, the reform ing churchm an of the m id-eight
eenth century, attem pted to achieve the same end by establishing a C om
m ittee of the Public, consisting of representatives of the G reek professional
guilds of C onstantinople and entrusted with the m aterial affairs of the church.
H is strategy was to check the Phanariotes by dem ocratizing the church ad
m inistration. This was far too radical for the times and Cyril was eventually
deposed and executed.
It should not be assum ed th at clear-cut issues ranged all the clergy
against all the Phanariotes. In actual practice, m ost of the clergy had inti
m ate connections with one or another of the Phanariote families, which prob
ably explains C yrils radical m easure. Likewise, the Phanariotes were con
tinually feuding am ong themselves, so that we find one or m ore of them
actually supporting Cyril. In the end, a rough balance was reached whereby
the clergy retained control of the strictly ecclesiastical affairs while the
Phanariotes were left in charge of church adm inistration.
W hatever the balance betw een the Phanariotes and the clergy may
have been at given periods, the im portant point to note here is th at by the
beginning of the nineteenth century both groups occupied im portant posi
tions in the O ttom an E m pire and fulfilled essential functions. It is perhaps
an exaggeration to state, as does A rnold T oynbee, th at they were the senior
partners in the O ttom an firm , 8 but it is indisputable that they constituted
one of the principal pillars of the O ttom an imperial structure.

We enter an entirely different w orld w hen we turn from Greek
Phanariotes and churchm en to G reek peasants. D uring the years immediately
following the T urkish conquest these peasants fared tolerably well under their
new m asters. O ttom an adm inistration at th at tim e was simple, efficient, anil
easy to bear. T he conquerors divided the G reek lands into six sanjaks, lain
increased to ten when the T urks added C rete and the A egean Islands to then
possessions. T he m ost desirable plains lands were distributed am ong deserv
ing T urkish w arriors in the form of large fiefs or ziam ets and sm aller liel's <u
tim ars. T he spahis who held these fiefs were required in time of w ar to prcM iil

Greek Revolution and Independent Statehood to 1878


themselves for m ilitary service together with a num ber of arm ed retainers
proportionate to the size of their fiefs. In the m id-seventeenth century the
six m ainland sanjaks m entioned above encom passed a total of 267 ziamets
and 1,625 tim ars, which together furnished a force of 7,255 horsem en. Crete,
after its conquest, was sim ilarly parceled out into 17 ziam ets and 2,550
tim ars, which produced 5,350 cavalrym en.
We noted in C hapter 7 th at the G reek peasants living under this
form of O ttom an feudalism were better olf than their brothers under V ene
tian rule. T heir church was allowed to function freely, their taxes were light,
and they enjoyed a large degree of autonom y in a decentralized adm inistra
tive system. Some villages and districts had m ore self-governm ent than others.
C ertain towns, such as Y anina, received at the tim e of their conquest charters
guaranteeing special adm inistrative privileges. Many islands were left taxfree and unm olested in return for a specified num ber of recruits each year
for the im perial navy. Also, certain regions designated perm anent appanages
of m em bers of the royal family, of governm ent officials, or of religious foun
dations were not subject to the com m on im perial adm inistration and norm ally
were left to their own devices. Finally, there were certain m ountainous regions
th at were never com pletely subdued and were left unm olested so long as they
paid a general tribute.
T he only generalization that can be m ade about such a chaotic ad
m inistrative system is that it allowed a large proportion of the G reek peasants
to lead their lives w ithout interference from T urkish authority. A part from
some areas in T hrace and M acedonia, where a large num ber of T urks actually
settled and tilled the soil, the G reek population norm ally was free to select
its own officials. T hese were variously designated as elders, archons,
prim ates, and kodjabashis. In som e com m unities they were elected in
a dem ocratic m anner but in others they constituted a self-perpetuating
W ith the passage of tim e the O ttom an im perial structure deteriorated
and the position of the subject G reeks w orsened correspondingly. Em bezzle
m ent, corruption, and m ilitary defeats led inevitably to an increased tax bur
den. M ore serious was the transition from m ilitary fiefs to hereditary chiiliks.
T he spahis originally had been granted only the right to collect certain speci
fied revenues from their fiefs, and this right was revokable if they failed to
perform their stipulated m ilitary duties. During the seventeenth and eight
eenth centuries, however, the decline of central authority enabled the spahis
to disregard their obligations and to becom e de facto hereditary owners of
their fiefs. These fiefs were thus transform ed in character and were know n
in G reece, as in the other B alkan lands, as chiiliks. T he tenants working on
these chiiliks no longer w ere p rotected by custom and law as they had been
in the past. T heir m asters now were free to im pose new burdens and dues,
with the result that the position of the G reek tenants steadily deteriorated,
l iven the G reeks who lived in the free m ountain areas were affected indirectly


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

because the flight of population from the plains to the m ountains produced
overpopulation and econom ic distress in the latter regions.
T he G reek population suffered also from the disruption of com m erce
during the O ttom an wars with V enice and A ustria. T rade w ith Venice
ceased from 1645 to 1699, and with A ustria from 1663 to 1699. T his ruined
a rising class of G reek m erchants, who had developed a profitable com m erce
by transporting B alkan raw m aterials to C entral E urope and to A egean and
A driatic ports, and then returning w ith sundry m anufactured articles for
which there was a strong dem and. The G reek m erchants were also adversely
affected by the appearance of French, British, D utch, and other W estern
m erchants, who installed them selves in ports such as Saloniki, Patras, and
A rta, and proceeded to funnel the im port-export trade through their estab
lishm ents. T heir com petition was particularly severe because, unlike the n a
tive G reek m erchants, they enjoyed relative security and freedom from ex
The G reek people were hard hit also by the ravages of the T urkishV enetian wars, which dragged on from 1645 to 1715. T he Peloponnesus
changed hands twice during the course of the fighting, and the local popula
tion suffered severely from property destruction, forced labor, and the other
accom panim ents of w ar. It was at this tim e th at a considerable num ber of
G reeks sought refuge by em igrating overseas, particularly to Italy and Corsica.
In fact, the lowest point in the fortunes of the G reek people in m odern times
was reached during these decades in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries. W hen the V enetians acquired the Peloponnesus by the Karlowitz
T reaty in 1699 they found less than 9 0,000 inhabitants, a num ber sm aller
than that of any other period since prehistoric times.
T he dire plight of the G reek peasantry during these years stands out
in m arked con trast to the pow er and affluence of G reek im perial circles in
C onstantinople. T he G reek peasant w orld was waging a bitter struggle for
survival at a tim e when Phanariote hospodars and m erchant princes were at
the height of their fortune. B ut during the course of the eighteenth century
im portant changes occurred. T he peasant w orld was gradually transform ed
by a com bination of foreign and dom estic forces that generated a rem arkable
revival in both the econom ic and cultural spheres. The final outcom e was a
national aw akening or renaissance. This inevitably created cleavages and ten
sions within and between the two G reek worlds. But it also produced a
heightened sense of national consciousness and a new feeling of pow er and
confidence th a t were to culm inate in 1821 in the beginning of the w ar for
A fortunate com bination of circum stances explains the great economic
revival th at transform ed the G reek lands during the eighteenth century. The
conclusion of the K arlow itz T reaty in 1699 m ade possible the resum ption of
trad e with V enice and the A ustrian E m pire. Also, the B ritish-French wars

Greek Revolution and Independent Statehood to 1878


of the eighteenth century aided the G reeks by disrupting the operations of

the W estern m erchants established in Saloniki, P atras, and other ports. The
G reeks seized the opportunity to tran sp o rt to C entral E urope B alkan raw
m aterials such as cereals, wool, cotton, and leather. In return they brought
back various m anufactured articles which hitherto had been im ported di
rectly by the W estern m erchants in the p o rt cities. Before the end of the
eighteenth century prosperous G reek trading com m unities had grown up in
V ienna, B uda, B ucharest, T rieste, Venice, and other foreign cities.
T he G reek econom y was stim ulated also by certain provisions of the
R usso-T urkish treaties of K uchuk K ainarji (1 7 7 4 ) and Jassy (1 7 9 2 ). They
stipulated th at the B lack Sea and the Straits be opened to R ussian and A us
trian com m erce, and that the G reek subjects of the sultan be allowed to fly
the Russian flag on their ships. These provisions opened vast new fields to
the energetic and com m ercially m inded G reeks, who found a large and ex
panding m arket in the new provinces of southern R ussia for such G reek
products as fruit, wine, soap, and olive oil. They also reaped profits serving
as the carriers of the rapidly growing R ussian w heat trade. Since they now
could fly the Russian flag they were able to sail back and forth through the
Straits w ithout fear of the custom ary T urkish extortions and restrictions.
Thus the G reek m erchant m arine quickly rose to first place in Black Sea
com m erce and held that position for m any years. A t the sam e time, G reek
com m unities were established and w ere soon flourishing in R ussian ports
such as O dessa, the Chersonese, and Taganrog. R ussian historians have rec
ognized the fact th at the G reeks were the chief m iddlem en in the whole of
the southern trade . . . and that the success of the southern R ussian trade
depended to a very great degree on the freedom and safety of G reek naviga
tion. 4
T he final and m ost spectacular factor in the G reek econom ic revival
was the F rench R evolution and the A nglo-French wars th a t followed. D uring
the course of these wars the British and the French virtually destroyed each
oth ers m erchant m arine in the M editerranean. Since they had previously
controlled m ost of the carrying trade, an acute shipping shortage now pre
vailed. T he G reeks at once seized the golden opportunity. W herever profits
were to be m ade, G reek m ariners and m erchants were present. They defied
N apoleons C ontinental blockade, ran the B ritish blockade to Spanish and
F rench ports, and sent caravans overland to F rance and to G erm any to buy
m anufactured goods and colonial products. T he m erchants m ade vast profits
while the shipow ners m ultipled their fleets m any tim es during these years. By
1813 the G reek m erchant m arine had increased to the phenom enal figure of
615 ships totaling 153,580 tons, equipped with 5,878 cannon, and m anned
by 37,526 seam en. T he cannon, which were to prove useful in 1821, were
standard equipm ent for m erchant ships in the M editerranean because of the
ravages of the N orth A frican pirates.
The F rench R evolution not only stim ulated the G reek m erchant
m arine but also enabled G reek m erchants to drive the W estern m erchants,


Age of Nationalism: 1815-1878

and particularly the F rench, from the dom inant position th at they had
hitherto held in G reek ports. O n June 12, 1807, the M arseilles C ham ber of
C om m erce inform ed the M inister of In terior: We would be happy, M onseigneur, if we could, as you ask, send Y o u r Excellency each m onth a bulle
tin on the state of