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The Seljuks were a branch of Turks, who, after originally settling north of the Caspian Sea, migrated to Persia in the 10th century A.D. Around the year 1000 A.D., their leader, Seljuk, established the Seljuk dynasty. This narrative begins with the first identifiable crisis -- the beginning of the Byzantine-Seljuk War.
In 1064, Alp Arslan, great-grandson of Seljuk, rose to the role of Sultan; which functioned as head of the dynasty, carrying both moral, religious, and political authority. Shortly after the somewhat contentious ascension, Alp Arslan drove into central Anatolia, plundering a church, and then headed east to capture sections of Georgia and Armenia. In 1068, he invaded the Byzantine Empire, launching the Byzantine-Seljuk wars, which lasted for centuries. After initial successes, the Seljuks were pushed back. In 1071, the Battle of Manzikert was fought, which resulted in a decisive Seljuk victory and the gain of a fair amount of Anatolian land. This was especially distressing to the Byzantines, who regarded Anatolia as the heart of their empire. As such, the Byzantine Empire fell into decline. However, they were by no means defeated. Fighting continued throughout the decade, with the Seljuks gaining ground in both Anatolia and Syria. In 1084, the city of Antioch was captured, ending over a century of Byzantine rule in the surrounding area. With the exception of a few strips of territory around the coast and the land neighboring Constantinople, the Byzantines had been virtually pushed out of modern-day Turkey.
Alp Arslanís successor, Malik Shah I, presided over the newly conquered territories. However, following his death in 1092, a quarrel forced a split in the empire, with Kilij Arslan I re-founding the Sultanate of Rum, located in Anatolia (it was founded in 1077 by Kilij Arslanís father, Suleiman, and then was disbanded after his murder). An invasion by Crusaders forced the Seljuks back to south-central Anatolia. Over the next few decades, cities in Anatolia bounced between the Sultanate and rebels. However, by 1174, they had recaptured nearly all lost territories in Anatolia.
The Crusades might have saved the Byzantines from an early exit, as it forced the Seljuks to concentrate on new problems; but by 1175, fighting resumed. A fragile peace had taken hold in earlier decades, but the refusal of the Seljuks to turn over newly captured territories (including Danishmend provinces, much of which were captured in 1174) forced Byzantine leader Manuel I to form a huge army which crossed into Seljuk lands. This climaxed at the Battle of Myriokephalon, which resulted in a major defeat for the Byzantines. While the battle was tactically indecisive, both sides suffered heavy losses, with the result being that the Byzantines were no longer able to mount a major attack on the Seljuks while the Sultanate was able to expand into its apogee.
The fighting continued sporadically over the next couple of years as the Byzantines were pushed out of western Anatolia. The Crusades, for the third time, presented a challenge, and shortly after the battle, the Seljuk capital of Konya was occupied by the Christian invaders. However, this appears to be a mostly inconsequential event in Seljuk history; and the city was recaptured in 1205. In 1194, the Sultanate of Rum became the last ruling representatives of the Great Seljuk dynasty, and during the next few decades, reached its acme. However, this era was short-lived, as a far greater threat than the Byzantines or the Crusaders presented itself. Mongol invaders, led by Genghis Khan, set out westward, conquering everything that came across their path.
In 1239, a revolt under preacher Baba Ishak spiraled out of control and threw the country into turmoil. It took a full three years to pacify the situation, but it came at a considerable expense to Sultan Keyhusrevís army and resulted in the loss of territory in Crimea. Over the next two years, the Mongols, under the leadership of Baiju, crossed into Anatolia, capturing Seljuk territory, including the large city of Erzurum. In 1243, the climactic Battle of Kose Dag was fought, which resulted in a crushing defeat for the Sultanate. Following the battle, the Sultanate became a mere vassal of the Mongol Empire.
Keyhusrev fled to the city of Antalya soon after running away from the enemy at Kose Dag. He died in 1246, and the Empire entered a tripartite system ruled by his sons, which was followed by dual rule until 1260, when the eldest was executed by the Mongols for continuing to battle Baiju. The middle was executed in 1265, and thereafter, the youngest, Kayqubad II, took sole control of the struggling state. However, the majority of power lay in the hands of the Mongols. In 1277, the Egyptian Mameluks replaced the Mongols as rulers of Anatolia, but the change was only temporary, as the Mongols returned with a vengeance. By 1282, only the area surrounding Konya remained in the hands of the Seljuks. The situation worsened when Kayqubad was executed, as it resulted in a serious blow to Seljuk stability. The conditions continued to worsen until the fall of the Seljuk regime.
It is here that we shift the focus from the Seljuk timeline to Ottoman Empire timeline. Please take note that the establishment of the Ottoman Empire coincides with the virtual collapse of the Seljuk regime, thus smoothing out any discrepancies between those living in Anatolia and their future Ottoman rulers.
Legend has it that a band of warriors from Central Asia led by a man named Ertughrul and his son Osman appeared at the scene of a battle between the Mongols and the Seljuks. Seeing that the Mongols were winning, Ertughrul joined the Seljuks in battle, thus enabling them to win the battle. The empire was saved, and Seljuk Sultan Kaihusrev II rewarded Ertughrul by giving him a piece of land around the battlefield.
In 1299, 18 years after Ertughrulís death, Osman declared his land separate from the collapsing Seljuk Empire, which was in a constant state of rebellion and turmoil. This marked the establishment of the Ottoman Emirate, or the House of Osman, a Sunni political organization.
Over the next few decades, the Ottoman territory expanded throughout Anatolia. The Byzantine Empire saw its foothold along the shores of Anatolia collapsing, and was forced to withdraw substantially when faced with The Ottomans continually laying siege to their forts. The near-dead Seljuk Empire was quickly incorporated into the Ottoman Emirate over the years, as the Ottomans marched into Europe fighting the Byzantines, Serbs, and Bulgarians. The advance into Europe continued as Murad I declared himself Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. In 1389, he was killed in the victorious Battle of Kosovo against the Serbs, leaving the newly formed and greatly expanding Empire to his son Beyazid I.
Beyazid flew into a rage upon hearing the news of his fatherís death. He ordered all Serbian prisoners taken from the Battle of Kosovo to be executed. However, his attitude toward the Serbs reversed when in a change of events, Hungary briefly became the primary threat, and the Serbs eventually became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. Beyazid then focused on Wallachia (located in modern-day Romania), but was defeated in numerous battles despite his greater amount of forces. Later that year, Beyazid laid siege to Constantinople, prompting a Christian crusade to save the city. The Christian allies were defeated, and Constantinople remained under siege until 1401. In 1400, a grave threat was imposed by Timur, a Central Asian warlord. Timur had convinced many Turkic Janissaries (also known as Beyliks) to attack Beyazid. The fateful Battle of Ankara was fought in 1402, and the Ottomans were soundly defeated. Days later, Timur captured the fleeing sultan, holding him prisoner until his death. With the Sultanateís power broken, the empire fell into chaos.
What happened next was remarkable. In 51 years, the Ottoman Empire rebounded from the brink of destruction to being in possession of the last great vestige of the Roman Empire. The years following the Battle of Ankara are known as the Ottoman Interregnum. The children of Beyazid fought against each other for territory, and the result was chaos in an era where stability was so badly desired. By 1413, Mehmed I stood as the victor. He relocated the capital from Bursa to Adrianople and drove the Mongols back out of Anatolia and brought once-seceded territories back under Ottoman control. Mehmed died in 1421 and his son, Murad II, immediately laid siege on Constantinople, forcing the Byzantines to pay tribute. Weakening control of Byzantine-held Greek city-states led the Empire of Venice to take control of Thessaloniki. The Ottomans laid siege to the city, completely unaware of the transfer of power, which led to a new war with Venice. This prompted an alliance between Serbia, Hungary, Austria, and Venice against the Ottomans. The Ottoman army had to be split, and after some setbacks, began to win battle after battle, forcing a treaty with Venice in 1432. Thessaloniki was now under Ottoman control. The war against Serbia and Hungary continued at a snailís pace until the Holy Roman Empire intervened on the Christiansí behalf. Due to this powerful alliance, in 1444, Murad was forced to abdicate in favor of his son and give up eastern territory through a peace treaty. However, the Christians soon violated this treaty and attacked. Murad responded swiftly and defeated the alliance. He was reinstated as Sultan in 1446. Mehmed I replaced his father upon his death in 1451.
The Anatolian Karaminid Empire was quickly annexed upon Mehmedís taking power. When the Byzantines asked for more tribute for supporting Mehmed, he used it as a pretext for launching the greatest and final siege of Constantinople. After repeated failures in bringing down the huge stone walls with catapults, and disaster in the underground tunnels they had dug to sap them, Mehmed ordered his army to overpower the city, despite warnings that this tactic would end in disaster. With few defenders (the Ottomans may have had an attacking army 20 times the size of the Byzantines) but great defensive fortifications and arms, the Byzantines could inflict casualties on the Ottomans and hold nearly the invaders off. The first two Ottoman waves were repulsed, and so was the third, composed of elite Janissaries. However, a victory against Byzantine-allied Christian land troops proved hopeful as to the course of the war. Bizarrely, in the retreat, a gate was left unlocked; and upon realizing this, the Ottomans took advantage of the mistake and rushed in. While civilian casualties were high upon the invasion, Mehmed realized the great opportunity that had been afforded to him, and issued a decree that all civilians in hiding would be free to go about their business.
Itís difficult to overstate the importance of the fall of Constantinople. The final remains of the Roman Empire were gone, and this ushered in a new era for the Ottoman Empire, instantly catapulting them from a simple regional power to the universally recognized leaders of the Muslim world. Constantinople was made the imperial capital, and Mehmed considered himself the legitimate successor to the throne of the Eastern Roman Empire. However, they were not the only ones who claimed to be the inheritors of the (Greek Orthodox) Byzantine Empire, setting up a fault between them and the Russians.
The capture of Constantinople ushered in a new period of rapid advancement and expansion. Confident in his ability to wage war, Mehmed and his armies conquered the small remaining offshoots of the Roman Empire and assisted his ally in the takeover of Wallachia. The Ottoman Empire then came into conflict with the eastern European Moldavian Empire; and although after losing a great battle, the Ottomans successfully sacked their capital, but were forced to retreat soon after. Perhaps hubris caught hold of Mehmed, who attempted an invasion of Italy in 1480 with the intent of capturing Rome and reunite the Roman Empire. After early successes, rebellion in recently captured regions took its toll on the invasion. Mehmed died in 1481, and after a brief and inconsequential succession conflict, his son Beyazid II came to the throne and removed the armies from the Italian peninsula. Beyazidís reign was marred by rebellion, especially in eastern territories -- which were certainly helped along by Ismail of the newly- formed Safavid Empire. In 1492, Beyazid sent his navy North to Spain to rescue Jews and Arabs fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, thus bringing new culture and ideas to the growing empire, not to mention the printing press!
In 1509, Constantinople was rocked by a powerful earthquake that nearly devastated the city. Shortly thereafter, in Beyazidís old age, a succession crisis between his two sons, Selim and Ahmed developed. The elder Ahmed, eager after winning a battle, marched towards Constantinople with dubious intentions. Selim then staged a revolt, but was forced to flee to Crimea by Beyazid, who also refused to allow Ahmed into the city. Selim returned with an army of Janissaries, and killed Ahmed outside the gates. Beyazid then abdicated the throne and died shortly thereafter. Selim I, noting his grandfather Mehmedís successful policy of killing all possible threats to the throne as well (as the troubles with both his and his fatherís ascension), murdered all his nephews and brothers. When the dirty business was finished, Selim focused on the external problems that faced the Ottoman Empire, thus bringing out the greatest period of expansion in Ottoman history. The Shiía Safavidís were first on the list of threats. Next came the powerful Mameluk Empire in Egypt, followed by the holy sites of Islam and the Abbasid Empire. By the time of his death in 1520, Algiers, Alexandria, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo had been incorporated into the empire. In 1521 under his son, a revolt was brutally put down; and later that year, the Serbian city of Belgrade was captured. This incredible period of conquest ushered in a new era, one where they were arguably the most powerful and culturally advanced empire in the world.
Itís difficult to determine the crisis climax for the crisis under Selim Iís rule, as his son, Suleiman I, continued with this policy of conquest, albeit at a slower rate. In 1526, the battle of Mohacs took place, which led to the capture of Buda. In 1529, he laid siege to Vienna, but was forced to turn back. The rest of the North African coast was conquered in the 1530s as well as parts of central Asia.
Suleiman is generally considered to be the greatest Ottoman ruler. Regarded as a benevolent yet just ruler, he presided over the apogee of the empire, and is known throughout the western world as ďThe Magnificent.Ē In the Islamic world, he is known as ďThe Lawgiver,Ē as he decreed more laws than any Ottoman leader before or since and reformed the judicial system, removing double standards and issuing a single legal code based on Islamic Shariíah. Under his rule, architecture and society thrived.
The administrative reforms that were instituted around 1540 were somewhat marred by internal and external problems. Over the course of Suleimanís rule, the Ottoman population had jumped from 12 million to 22 million, and many newly conquered provinces returned to the old laws of taxation due to economic problems. Revolts in the 1550s only exacerbated the pressing economic issues. With such a huge empire, these problems could not be properly controlled. Increased taxation was met with greater resistance, and the Janissary corps became rowdy and undisciplined. Furthermore, political strife in the capital occupied much of the time of the Sultan. A Mediterranean campaign was launched in 1543, and after a few missteps, it was decided that a truce was in order. Later, a campaign to defeat the Safavid Shah failed. In 1559, civil war broke out between two of Suleimanís sons (prior to this, the popular heir apparent had put to death, which sparked protest throughout Anatolia), to whom he had given territory. These disappointments caused the Sultan to mostly withdraw from public life.
Selim had won the brief civil war, and the Ottomans, led by the aging Suleiman, laid siege to Malta in 1565; but the easy victory was deterred by reinforcement by Spain, resulting in a disastrous loss. Suleiman died the next year, and was replaced by Selim II. Unlike his father, Selim II had no political interest. He was more concerned with reaping the benefits that being Sultan afforded him. As such, he was referred to by dissidents as ďSelim the Drunkard.Ē Selim II ordered the siege of the Russian cities, but was driven back. In 1570, a peace treaty between the two empires was signed at Constantinople. The following year, the Ottoman Navy was nearly destroyed by a joint Spanish and Italian force, thus signaling the end of the era of expansion. Selim died in 1574 and was replaced by Murad III, who was no better a leader than Selim.
Undermined at every turn and plagued by institutional decay and their own personal habits, Selim and Murad are often blamed for the decline of the Ottoman Empire. In addition, an important precedent was set during this time undoubtedly had a major effect on the fate of the empire. The old habit of (literally) strangling all threats the throne was replaced by locking them in jail, leading to some nutcases advancing the title of Sultan.
The relative piece that followed Suleimanís death began to show strains throughout the final years of Muradís reign. Problems with the Hapsburg Empire began to assert itself more seriously than any time since the Battle of Mohacs in 1526. A desperate peace treaty was signed in 1586. In the late 1580s, a tax increase was instituted to repair the collapsing economy, which led to revolt in the early 1590s in some areas; which in turn led to small wars, especially in Croatia. Another peace treaty was signed with the Hapsburgs in 1590. A series of confrontational acts surrounding the problems in Croatia and territory disputes led the Ottomans to declare war in 1593.
Mehmed III rose to the throne upon Muradís death in 1595. He deposed his military commander, Sinan Pasha, shortly after his ascension (who continually rose and fell from power) and personally led the campaign himself. Casualties were very heavy throughout the Long War on both sides throughout the 1590s, and no end could be seen until the rise of Stephen Bocksay. Bocksay was a Hungarian nobleman from Transylvania; and to save his homeland, he led an anti-Hapsburg uprising and assisted the Ottoman Turks, thus tipping the scale toward the allies, forcing a truce, and finally ending the costly and exhaustive Long War. The Peace of Zsitvatorok was signed and the Hapsburgs were forced to increase their tribute to the Ottomans, although no territory changes were made. The Ottomans, led by Ahmed I, now viewed their Hapsburg rivals as equals.
(To be continued)
-- Matt Ignal