Greatest Nations: Turkey - C. F. Horne

The First Period of Power and the Fall of Bajazet

[Illustration] from Greatest Nations - Turkey by C. F. Horne


[Authorities: As before, also Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire": Freeman, "History of the Ottoman Power in Europe"; Tilly, "Eastern Europe and Western Asia."]

From the doubtful kingship of a petty border state to the assured sovereignty of a mighty empire, is no easy climb; nor did the Osmanli achieve it in a single generation. Emir Osman himself was busy all his life warring against the Greek cities of the Black Sea. These had seen the rise and then the fall of many a power such as his, and, protected by walls and fleets, had managed to maintain a practical independence of all. They treated the new conqueror with but half-veiled scorn. They admitted that he might be able to ravage their outlying territories others had done, or storm an occasional country fortress; but the great cities themselves he could not harm—and he too would pass away.

Osman, however, was more patient than earlier conquerors. Outside each city's gates he erected forts which served to shelter permanent garrisons; his soldiers remained year after year to plunder all who ventured forth. Yet the cities, provisioned by their fleets, continued to defy him, and it was not until the very year of his death that Osman, or rather his son Orchan, achieved the capture of Brusa after a siege of eight long years. Brusa, situated on the little sea of Marmora looking toward Europe, was one of the three greatest of the Greek cities of Asia Minor, and its fall drew the startled attention of all the East. The dying Osman commanded with pride that his body should be buried there in remembrance of the triumph he had achieved.

In studying the career of Osman we can see what has given such permanence to the Turkish dominion. It was established, at least in its earlier advance, by love, not fear, by benefits conferred, rather than sufferings inflicted. Other Asiatic monarchs have built up more sudden, more wide-spreading empires; but these terrible men have flashed like blood-stained meteors before the eyes of a devastated world. Their conquests have been vast raids of destruction, which left behind only hatred of themselves. Their captured provinces, held only by force, have broken away at the first sign of the conqueror's exhaustion. The power of Osman was not thus lost in the winning. It was extended slowly. Between his wars, there were long periods of peace. As each neighboring province was acquired, it was carefully assimilated. Though known to his people as a warrior, he was even more admired as a just and generous ruler. They called him Kara Osman, which means the black Osman, but not in the evil sense the term would have with us, for the Turks admire swarthy men. Hence the phrase suggests to them Osman the darkly beautiful, the nobly attractive and commanding. Despite that sudden slaying of his uncle, so repellent to Western ideas, Osman is regarded by his countrymen as almost a saint. The wish with which each new Sultan of Turkey is greeted is that he may be, not as great, but as good as Osman.

Conquest of Nicaea


The death of the founder of the kingdom left his authority to his two sons, Aladdin and Orchan, between whom a contest of generosity at once arose. Aladdin was the elder, but the European rule of succession was by no means fully established amid the Turks. Indeed, in their old days of wandering, it had been the youngest son who remained to care for the aged parents, and who finally took possession of the homestead. Each elder lad, as he came to manhood, started off with a few comrades to seek new fortunes. Moreover, it was Orchan who had proved his ability and gladdened his father's heart by the capture of Brusa; so the dying Emir named Orchan as his successor.

Emir Orchan offered his disinherited brother whatever he desired, even to the half of his domains, but Aladdin refused to destroy by division the power which their father had built up. He would accept only the revenues of a single village. "If you will take nothing from me," said Orchan, "then you must be my Vizier;" which means bearer of burdens. To this Aladdin consented and became the real administrator and director of the affairs of the kingdom.

To him the Turks attribute almost all their characteristic institutions. He gave them a code of laws, and established a feudal system not unlike that of Europe. He created a standing army, antedating by over a century the earliest known among the nations of the West. Schools were instituted and mosques erected, as were palaces and other public edifices of magnificent architecture. In short, if we regard the ancestors of the Osmanli as having been barbarians when they first entered Asia Minor, their progress in civilization was rapid almost beyond parallel.

Of all Aladdin's institutions, the best-known to the West was the band of soldiers called the Janizaries. The idea was suggested to him by a warrior relative; the name Janizaries, which means "new troops," was given the first recruits by a holy dervish who blessed them; but Aladdin's was the brain and Orchan's the hand that brought them into being. The purpose of their creation was partly, at least, religious. When the Turks conquered a people opposed to the faith of Mahomet, they did not compel conversion by massacre, but sought to induce it by milder means. One of their methods was to exact from the subjected territory a yearly tribute of the fairest and strongest boys who were not Mahometans. In this manner, a thousand such lads were gathered every year and separated from home and all the softer influences of life. They were brought up as Mahometans, trained in warfare and, if deemed worthy, became members of the band of "new troops," the chief instrument of Turkish warfare, the central band on whose final, desperate charge, like that of the four hundred and forty-four warriors of Ertoghrul, the rulers relied for victory.

The weapons thus prepared by Aladdin were wielded by Orchan. Within a year of his father's death, he had captured Nicomedia, the second of the three Greek cities which had defied his father. Three years later (1330) he put an end to the dominion of the Greeks in Asia Minor, by compelling the surrender of Nicaea, the last and greatest of their strongholds, inferior only to Constantinople itself in size and splendor. The Turkish kingdom of Karasi, with its capital at the ancient Greek city of Pergamos, was also conquered (1336). This established the authority of Orchan over all north-western Asia Minor, and gave him a kingdom nearly as large as modern Italy. He became the nearest neighbor and indeed the real master of the ancient and decrepit Roman Empire of the East. This still lingered as a Greek kingdom with its capital at Constantinople and its feeble authority extending over most of what to-day is European Turkey. The cities of Asia Minor had acknowledged a vague allegiance to this Empire, and in seizing them, Orchan began its dismemberment. Throughout the latter part of his reign, he was the practical dictator of its policy. Crusaders from the West gathered to aid this outpost of Christianity against the Turks. But Orchan was repeatedly appealed to by the rivals who fought for its throne, and in viewing the intrigues of father fighting against son, he gained such an introduction into European statecraft as could hardly have roused in him much admiration or even respect for the civilization of the West.

Norse Crusaders


Nearly a quarter of a century was devoted by Orchan to establishing himself in Asia Minor, while his warriors became ever more clamorous for a new advance. Several times bands of them crossed from Asia and raided the provinces beyond Constantinople, but these expeditions aimed only at plunder and were not intended to establish a permanent dominion. In 1356, came what was really the next great forward step of the Osmanli, their first acquisition of European territory. Solyman, the son of Orchan, was in command of his father's troops along the Hellespont. As he stood gazing across its waters, he had, according to legend, one of those visions characteristic of and so useful to his race. A crescent moon rose before him, linking the two continents with its light; he heard voices summoning him to advance and saw palace after palace rising out of nothing, for his possession.

A band of forty warriors with young Solyman at their head rowed secretly across the Hellespont by night and stormed the European fortress of Tzympe, capturing it by surprise. The Greek Emperor remonstrated, but Solyman refused to give up his prize. A large ransom was offered him, and peaceful negotiations were in progress, when suddenly, unexpectedly, a terrific earthquake swept over all the region, breaking and battering the walls of many cities. The opportunity seemed too providential to be lost. The Turks cried out that God himself had interfered to deliver the country into their hands. The troops of Solyman. advanced from Tzympe and seized Gallipoli, the chief city and seaport of the Hellespont, marching in over the ruins of its walls without resistance from the terror-stricken inhabitants. Other towns were captured in similar manner, and though the Greek Emperor protested, he dared do no more.

Solyman died, and his body, like that of Osman, was buried near the scene of his last conquest. Soon afterward, Emir Orchan closed a long life full of honors and fame. He was succeeded on the throne by his eldest surviving son, Amurath or Murad I (1359-1389).

Murad, the last of the Osmanli rulers to be satisfied with the simple title of Emir, was a worthy representative of his able, energetic race. He had first to defend himself against a revolt incited by the Emir of Caramania, chief rival of the Osmanli for dominion over Asia Minor. Despite the intrigues of the enemy, Murad suppressed the rebellion with a vigor and rapidity which thoroughly convinced his subjects of his right to rule. Then he returned to the Hellespont, and following in the footsteps of his brother Solyman continued the advance of the Osmanli into Europe.

His reign was practically one long war against the West, and to him were due most of those Turkish acquisitions in Europe which have lasted to this day. The great city of Adrianople was wrested from the Greek Empire in 1360, and Murad settled his court there permanently, made the place one of his capitals, and the seat from which he pushed on to further conquests. The degenerate Greeks opposed him with no effective force, and retained in their power only the massive-walled capital, Constantinople, with its immediate surroundings.

The invaders found a much more vigorous foe when they approached the Balkan States, the little principalities which we have seen revived in our own generation, after their national life had been extinct for over four hundred years. In the fourteenth century Servia was a powerful state, an empire in the estimation of its rulers, one of whom had assumed the grandiloquent title "Emperor of the Roumelians, the Macedonian Christ-loving Czar." Bosnia and Bulgaria were also strong kingdoms of the Slavic race, while beyond, and aiding them, lay Poland and Hungary, at that time two of the chief powers of Europe.

A league of all these states was formed to expel from the continent the invading Osmanli. The Christian forces took the field and advanced almost to Adrianople. In the pride of their numbers and prowess, they neglected all precautions; and, as they lay one night by the Marizza River engaged in a drunken carouse, they were suddenly set upon by the Turks and completely overthrown (1363).

The battle of the Marizza was the first of the long series in which for five centuries the Eastern invaders have held their ground against all the efforts of the West. The Turkish historians rise to poetry in celebration of the triumph. Says one of them: "The enemy were caught even as wild beasts in their lair. They were driven before us as flames are driven before the wind, till plunging into the Marizza they perished in its waters." By 1376, both Servia and Bulgaria had become tributary states to Murad, and the great Emir set himself to the peaceful task of consolidating the kingdom which he had more than doubled in size.

Solyman the Magnificent


Once only in later life was he compelled to encounter rebellion, and that was not from his subjects but from his younger son Saoudji. The tale is strikingly Turkish. Saoudji was in command of all his country's forces in Europe. He thought himself neglected by his father, and joining an equally discontented son of the Greek Emperor, ordered the Turkish troops to follow him in revolt. The wrathful Murad hurried back from Asia. He accused the Greek Emperor of being the instigator of their two sons; and the trembling Emperor, to prove he had no part in it, agreed with Murad that if the youths were captured, they should both have their eyes put out. Marching onward from this interview, the Sultan encamped his troops in front of his son's forces, and himself spurred forward alone in the night. Riding up to the rebels he called out to them to return to their allegiance. At the sound of the well-known voice, the Turkish warriors rushed around their Sultan in multitudes, beseeching pardon since they had been bound in loyalty to follow the command of his son.

Thus the rebellion was over, but Murad seized Saoudji, blinded him according to his pledge and then beheaded him. The Greek nobles who were with the rebel, were drowned in batches, the Sultan showing a grim pleasure in their sufferings. He bound the Greek prince in chains and sent him to the Emperor, informing the latter of the punishment already inflicted on Saoudji. The feeble Emperor blinded his own son also, but unwillingly and so imperfectly that the youth was left with some slight power of vision. Murad took no further notice of the matter.

Equally important with Murad's European conquests, at least to Turkish eyes, was his victory over the Emir of Caramania, the hereditary rival of his house. Caramania was the land of south-eastern Asia Minor where a Turkish power similar to that of the Osmanli had grown up from the ruins of older empires. The two rival states had swallowed one by one the lesser principlities between them and finally stood face to face disputing the supremacy of the entire region. The decisive struggle broke out in 1387, and Murad completely overthrew the enemy in a great battle at Iconium. It was here that Bajazet, Murad's son and successor, gained the title of Ilderim, "the lightning," through the speed and fury of his attacks upon the foe.

Scarcely were the Caramanians overcome, when the aged monarch found himself confronted by another danger. A second league of the Christian states was formed against him with Servia at their head. This kingdom and Bulgaria had been apparently his submissive vassals, until in 1388 their troops suddenly assailed and almost annihilated a Turkish army which was advancing into the unsubdued province of Bosnia. Murad hurried from Asia for revenge. His troops crossed the Balkans into Bulgaria, desolated the land with grim fury, conquered and annexed it. The Turkish frontier was advanced to the Danube. Then Murad himself led his forces against Servia. The enormous army which was gathered against him from many Christian states, greatly outnumbered his, but the aged conqueror did not hesitate to attack the foe on the plain of Kossova (1389). A brilliant Turkish victory followed, due once more, we are told, to the dash and daring of Bajazet Ilderim.

While the contest was raging, Murad was stabbed by a Servian assassin, who penetrated to his tent under pretense of being a deserter with important news. The Emir lived long enough to be assured of his last great victory and to order the execution of his rebel vassal, the Servian King, who was brought before him a prisoner. Then he died, and Bajazet Ilderim 'succeeded to the throne.

In Bajazet I (13891402) we find a ruler of wholly different type from the earlier Osmanli. Four generations of the house of Ertoghrul had shown themselves fierce and strong, but also wise and just and even generous, caring for the reality of power rather than its outward trappings. Bajazet seemed to inherit only the ferocity of his race. He was vain and ostentatious, false and foolish, an evil-minded voluptuary, who brought to ruin almost all that his ancestors had labored to accomplish. Perhaps we ought not to accept these statements too freely. The Turkish writers, with their love of allegory and poetic justice, always insist that vice must be punished and virtue rewarded. As Bajazet fell, it follows therefore in the estimation of his people that he must have been wicked; and the tales of his folly and perfidy have perchance been pictured with too dark a hue.

Yet the record seems plain to read. The new Emir's first act on the very field of battle, was to seize his only surviving brother and cause him to be put to death. Remembering that Orchan, a younger brother, had superseded an elder, Bajazet meant to allow no rival near the throne, which he had already resolved to hold by force if not by justice.

Fickle fortune seemed to welcome him as a favorite and showered upon his undeserving head all the conquests for which his father had laboriously prepared the way. Servia, crushed by the defeat of Kossova, became a vassal state, its king remaining the most valued and the most faithful of the allies of Bajazet. Wallachia also became tributary to the Turks without much resistance; and thus their expanding territory for the first time crossed the Danube. In 1392, Sigismund, King of Hungary, afterward the Emperor Sigismund, attacked them, but was driven back in utter rout.

Bajazet was next obliged to return to Asia to re-establish his dominion over Caramania, whose emirs were recovering from their defeat at the hands of Murad. They do not seem, however, to have been able to offer Bajazet any considerable opposition, and he annexed their entire land as a permanent part of his empire. He then marched his victorious armies to the eastward, and extended his power over the last remaining fragments of Asia Minor.

Having thus made sure of his domains, Bajazet sank into a state of indolence and evil pleasure. The tales of his debauchery and licentiousness are too hideous to repeat. His pride, however, led him to do one noteworthy thing. The simple title of Emir seemed to him insufficient for his glory. He applied to the Caliph in Egypt, the religious head of the Mahometan world, and was by him authorized to assume the illustrious title of Sultan, or lord of lords.



In 1396, Sultan Bajazet was compelled to return to Europe to meet the most formidable effort yet put forth by the West to resist the advance of the Turks. In the Hungarians, the invaders had at last encountered Roman Christians, instead of the Greeks who looked to Constantinople as their Church's centre. Upon the appeal of the defeated King Sigismund of Hungary, the Roman Pope preached a crusade against the heathen foe. An army, perhaps twelve thousand strong, composed not of peasants but of the proudest knights of France and Germany, took up the holy war. So splendid was their array that they boasted that if the sky should fall they would uphold it on the points of their lances. They planned to defeat Bajazet, then take possession of Constantinople, then conquer Asia Minor, march on to Syria, seize Jerusalem, and re-establish a Christian kingdom there.

King Sigismund received this aid with joy, and marshalling his own forces, joined the advance of the Crusaders. The King of Servia refused to desert Bajazet and join them, so this Christian state was laid waste by the followers of the Cross. Its warriors were slain without quarter and its cities stormed.

The Sultan made haste to gather the most powerful army his dominions could supply, and met the enemy before the city of Nicopolis. The Crusaders had boasted that this notorious voluptuary would never dare encounter them; they had refused to believe the news of his approach. When at last his troops suddenly faced them, the Crusaders were eager to attack at once. Sigismund, who knew to his cost the Turkish style of. battle, explained to his impetuous allies that they were confronting only the lighter troops, whose attack meant nothing. He entreated them not to exhaust themselves until the Janizaries should appear. But the Crusaders, especially the French knights, refused to be advised; they would not condescend to alter their form of battle to please the Turks, but insisted on charging the foe at once and bearing down all who opposed them. Their light-armed opponents scattered, but there were always other troops beyond. The Frenchmen were led on and on until at length, when they were exhausted and their wearied horses were stumbling at every step, the last curtain of light horsemen was drawn away, and they saw before them the long, stern ranks of the steel-clad Janizaries. Slowly the grim foe closed about them in a circle, and the Frenchmen were slain or captured almost to a man.

Following them, hoping yet to save the fortunes of the day, came the Hungarians and the remnant of the Crusaders. Both sides fought valiantly; but the Servian troops under Bajazet, furious at the cruel devastation of their land, made a charge that swept all before it. The Janizaries advanced to join them, and soon the Hungarians and their allies were fleeing in utter rout. King Sigismund escaped almost alone from the disastrous battlefield of Nicopolis (1396).

The slaughter was immense. Christian historians say that sixty thousand Turks were slain. The next day Bajazet, vowing to be avenged for the loss of .so many subjects, caused almost all his prisoners, at least ten thousand in number, to be massacred in his presence. A few of the richest Crusaders were spared for ransom, and when these were released, the. Sultan sent back by them the scornful message that he would always be pleased to have the Franks come and try their strength against him.

The Turks did not pursue their advantage far. After ravaging a portion of the enemy's domains, Bajazet fell back. Perhaps his losses had really been too great to bear, though his own historians explain that he was seized with illness. He sent his troops into Greece instead, and all that ancient land was added to the Ottoman Empire. Then in 1400, Bajazet dispatched to the Emperor of .Constantinople a haughty notice that the divinely appointed conquerors would wait no longer, that Constantinople must be surrendered to them, or they would slay every soul within its walls. The Emperor bravely responded that he knew his weakness, but would defend his capital, and only Heaven could decide the issue.

Heaven had already decided. This last easy triumph was to be denied the savage Bajazet. Already his doom was at hand. The great Tartar conqueror, Timur the Lame, or Tamburlane, had established his empire in Central Asia. His forces swept westward and clashed with those of the Osmanli. A son of Bajazet defended against the invaders the city of Sebastia on the eastern borders of Asia Minor. Sebastia was captured and all its defenders slain with torture. The Sultan vowed to avenge his son. Timur's hordes had surged southward into Syria, but would soon return. Bajazet had two years in which to gather all his forces; then Turk and Tartar met on the plain of Angora to contest the sovereignty of the East (1402).

Turks return from Serbia


Vague and marvellous legends have reached us of this tremendous battle. The Turkish historians seem to assign to Bajazet a hundred thousand troops and to Timur eight hundred thousand. Yet, despite this enormous discrepancy, they represent their own chieftain as acting with the blind self-confidence of a madman or a fool. To show his contempt of his adversary, he withdrew his troops from before the foe and employed them in a gigantic hunt, miles upon miles of mountain land being encircled by the army and the game driven forward to be killed by the Sultan and his court. So exhaustive was the labor, so barren the region, that thousands of the warriors perished of thirst; and when at last the senseless tyrant would have permitted his victims to return to the streams of the plain, they found the vantage ground occupied by their watchful foe and they could reach the water only by fighting for it. They struggled heroically but in vain, and the gallant army perished almost to a man, through exhaustion rather than the blows of their enemies.

Of these legends we may believe what we choose. It is certain that the Turks were utterly defeated; Bajazet was captured, and Timur marched in triumphant procession over the Asiatic territories of his foe. The tale has passed into literature of his carrying the fallen Sultan around in an iron cage and forcing him to drag his conqueror's chariot. But in truth the captive seems to have been borne about in a comfortable litter, to which bars were only added after he had attempted to escape. Timur's treatment was apparently as kindly as was consistent with holding a rival prisoner. Bajazet soon died; and Timur did not long survive him. The Tartar chief had conquered all Asia, but his successors did not know how to hold together his vast domains, and at his death the Asiatic world fell into chaos.