Expansion Of The Osmanli Kingdom

If the new state was to expand by conquest, its line of advance was

already foreshadowed. For the present, it could hardly break back into

Asia Minor, occupied as this was by Moslem principalities sanctioned by

the same tradition as itself, namely, the prestige of the Seljuks. To

attack these would be to sin against Islam. But in front lay a rich but

weak Christian state, the centre of the civilization to which the popular
/> element in the Osmanli society belonged. As inevitably as the state of

Nicaea had desired, won, and transferred itself to, Constantinople, so did

the Osmanli state of Brusa yearn towards the same goal; and it needed no

invitation from a Greek to dispose an Ottoman sultan to push over to the

European shore.

Such an invitation, however, did in fact precede the first Osmanli

crossing in force. In 1345 John Cantacuzene solicited help of Orkhan

against the menace of Dushan, the Serb. Twelve years later came a second

invitation. Orkhan's son, Suleiman, this time ferried a large army over

the Hellespont, and, by taking and holding Gallipoli and Rodosto, secured

a passage from continent to continent, which the Ottomans would never

again let go.

Such invitations, though they neither prompted the extension of the

Osmanli realm into Europe nor sensibly precipitated it, did nevertheless

divert the course of the Ottoman arms and reprieve the Greek empire till

Timur and his Tartars could come on the scene and, all unconsciously,

secure it a further respite. But for these diversions there is little

doubt Constantinople would have passed into Ottoman hands nearly a century

earlier than the historic date of its fall. The Osmanli armies, thus led

aside to make the Serbs and not the Greeks of Europe their first

objective, became involved at once in a tangle of Balkan affairs from

which they only extricated themselves after forty years of incessant

fighting in almost every part of the peninsula except the domain of the

Greek emperor. This warfare, which in no way advanced the proper aims of

the lords of Brusa and Nicaea, not only profited the Greek emperor by

relieving him of concern about his land frontier but also used up strength

which might have made head against the Tartars. Constantinople then, as

now, was detached from the Balkans. The Osmanlis, had they possessed

themselves of it, might well have let the latter be for a long time to

come. Instead, they had to battle, with the help now of one section of the

Balkan peoples, now of another, till forced to make an end of all their

feuds and treacheries by annexations after the victories of Kosovo in 1389

and Nikopolis in 1396.

Nor was this all. They became involved also with certain peoples of the

main continent of Europe, whose interests or sympathies had been affected

by those long and sanguinary Balkan wars. There was already bad blood and

to spare between the Osmanlis on the one hand, and Hungarians, Poles, and

Italian Venetians on the other, long before any second opportunity to

attack Constantinople occurred: and the Osmanlis were in for that age-long

struggle to secure a 'scientific frontier' beyond the Danube, whence the

Adriatic on the one flank and the Euxine on the other could be commanded,

which was to make Ottoman history down to the eighteenth century and spell

ruin in the end.

It is a vulgar error to suppose that the Osmanlis set out for Europe, in

the spirit of Arab apostles, to force their creed and dominion on all the

world. Both in Asia and Europe, from first to last, their expeditions and

conquests have been inspired palpably by motives similar to those active

among the Christian powers, namely, desire for political security and the

command of commercial areas. Such wars as the Ottoman sultans, once they

were established at Constantinople, did wage again and again with knightly

orders or with Italian republics would have been undertaken, and fought

with the same persistence, by any Greek emperor who felt himself strong

enough. Even the Asiatic campaigns, which Selim I and some of his

successors, down to the end of the seventeenth century, would undertake,

were planned and carried out from similar motives. Their object was to

secure the eastern basin of the Mediterranean by the establishment of some

strong frontier against Iran, out of which had come more than once forces

threatening the destruction of Ottoman power. It does not, of course, in

any respect disprove their purpose that, in the event, this object was

never attained, and that an unsatisfactory Turco-Persian border still

illustrates at this day the failures of Selim I and Mohammed IV.

By the opening of the fifteenth century, when, all unlooked for, a most

terrible Tartar storm was about to break upon western Asia, the Osmanli

realm had grown considerably, not only in Europe by conquest, but also in

Asia by the peaceful effect of marriages and heritages. Indeed it now

comprised scarcely less of the Anatolian peninsula than the last Seljuks

had held, that is to say, the whole of the north as far as the Halys river

beyond Angora, the central plateau to beyond Konia, and all the western

coast-lands. The only emirs not tributary were those of Karamania,

Cappadocia, and Pontus, that is of the southern and eastern fringes; and

one detached fragment of Greek power survived in the last-named country,

the kingdom of Trebizond. As for Europe, it had become the main scene of

Osmanli operations, and now contained the administrative capital,

Adrianople, though Brusu kept a sentimental primacy. Sultan Murad, who

some years after his succession in 1359 had definitely transferred the

centre of political gravity to Thrace, was nevertheless carried to the

Bithynian capital for burial, Bulgaria, Serbia, and districts of both

Bosnia and Macedonia were now integral parts of an empire which had come

to number at least as many Christian as Moslem subjects, and to depend as

much on the first as on the last. Not only had the professional Osmanli

soldiery, the Janissaries, continued to be recruited from the children of

native Christian races, but contingents of adult native warriors, who

still professed Christianity, had been invited or had offered themselves

to fight Osmanli battles--even those waged against men of the True Faith

in Asia. A considerable body of Christian Serbs had stood up in Murad's

line at the battle of Konia in 1381, before the treachery of another body

of the same race gave him the victory eight years later at Kosovo. So

little did the Osmanli state model itself on the earlier caliphial empires

and so naturally did it lean towards the Roman or Byzantine imperial type.

And just because it had come to be in Europe and of Europe, it was able to

survive the terrible disaster of Angora in 1402. Though the Osmanli army

was annihilated by Timur, and an Osmanli sultan, for the first and last

time in history, remained in the hands of the foe, the administrative

machinery of the Osmanli state was not paralysed. A new ruler was

proclaimed at Adrianople, and the European part of the realm held firm.

The moment that the Tartars began to give ground, the Osmanlis began to

recover it. In less than twenty years they stood again in Asia as they

were before Timur's attack, and secure for the time on the east, could

return to restore their prestige in the west, where the Tartar victory had

bred unrest and brought both the Hungarians and the Venetians on the

Balkan scene. Their success was once more rapid and astonishing: Salonika

passed once and for all into Ottoman hands: the Frank seigneurs and the

despots of Greece were alike humbled; and although Murad II failed to

crush the Albanian, Skanderbey, he worsted his most dangerous foe, John

Hunyadi, with the help of Wallach treachery at the second battle of

Kosovo. At his death, three years later, he left the Balkans quiet and the

field clear for his successor to proceed with the long deferred but

inevitable enterprise of attacking all that was left of Greek empire, the

district and city of Constantinople.

The doom of New Rome was fulfilled within two years. In the end it passed

easily enough into the hands of those who already had been in possession

of its proper empire for a century or more. Historians have made more of

this fall of Constantinople in 1453 than contemporary opinion seems to

have made of it. No prince in Europe was moved to any action by its peril,

except, very half-heartedly, the Doge. Venice could not feel quite

indifferent to the prospect of the main part of that empire, which, while

in Greek hands, had been her most serious commercial competitor, passing

into the stronger hands of the Osmanlis. Once in Constantinople, the

latter, long a land power only, would be bound to concern themselves with

the sea also. The Venetians made no effort worthy of their apprehensions,

though these were indeed exceedingly well founded; for, as all the world

knows, to the sea the Osmanlis did at once betake themselves. In less than

thirty years they were ranging all the eastern Mediterranean and laying

siege to Rhodes, the stronghold of one of their most dangerous

competitors, the Knights Hospitallers.

In this consequence consists the chief historic importance of the Osmanli

capture of Constantinople. For no other reason can it he called an

epoch-marking event. If it guaranteed the Empire of the East against

passing into any western hands, for example, those of Venice or Genoa, it

did not affect the balance of power between Christendom and Islam; for the

strength of the former had long ceased to reside at all in Constantinople.

The last Greek emperor died a martyr, but not a champion.