The last ‘Byzantine’ Turks (15th cen. A.D.)

As a result of the battle of Ankara in July of 1402, the Ottomans suffered a crushing defeat by Emir Timur, which caused a brief period of anti-Ottoman restoration in Anatolia and the Balkans. Süleyman Çelebi, the son of the sultan Bayezid I (1389–1402) who had died in Timur’s captivity, fearing Timur’s expected crossing of the Straits and his invasion of the Balkans, bought the loyalty of his former adversaries (Byzantium, Venice, and Genoa) for unprecedented concessions. A general agreement was concluded, probably in the beginning of 1403, according to which the Byzantine emperor John VII Palaiologos received vast possessions that incorporated Thessalonike and Kalamaria, a part of Macedonia, the Thracian coast from Panidos to Mesembria, the neighborhoods of Constantinople, and the islands of Skiathos, Skyros, and Skopelos. In addition, Süleyman handed over to the Byzantines certain Asian territories. Ottoman historians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries give a brief account of an Ottoman campaign against some Greek fortresses on the military road between Nikomedeia and Skoutari (Chrysopolis) during the reign of Mehmed I (1413–21). The military road (and its fortresses) stretched along the coast of the Gulf of Nikomedeia, that is, the region the Byzantines called Mesothynia. The most important Ottoman sources are Aşıkpaşazâde’s Tevârîh-i Âl-i Osman (second half of the fifteenth century), İdris-i Bitlîsî’s Hasht Bihisht (beginning of the sixteenth century), and Sadettin’s Tâcü’t-Tevârîh (end of the sixteenth century). According to the Ottoman historians, the sultan Mehmed I, hearing that some places on the sea coast opposite Constantinople had fallen into the hands of the Byzantines, sent an army which easily conquered the Byzantine fortresses.

Andronikos_III_Palaiologos        Andronikos III Palaiologos

The most detailed of the Ottoman accounts of the Turkish campaign in Mesothynia is found in the Persian work of İdris-i Bitlîsî:

For all that, there reached to the Sublime hearing that in Constantinople’s vicinity some settlements, places, and villages (which had been conquered by the [sultan’s] ancestors and the forefathers, who now reside in Paradise, and the troops of the Jihad bivouac; in particular, the king and the heavenly resident Orhan-Khan) were joined again to “the Land of War” by the kings of infidels, because of the anarchy that occurred during Emir Timur[’s times] and the damage from the contest between the sultan’s brothers for the Caesar’s Throne. Over the course of time, the lord of Istanbul and others seized those places. “Once again equipping troops of mujāhids, we shall entrust to them the conquest of that country and we wish all the land to be conquered and to be turned into waqf  becoming good land” – with these righteous intentions [the sultan] sent to conquer it Temirtaş’s son Umur-bek, along with the army of valiant mujāhids. According to the promise “Whoever is God’s God is his,” which pleases the heart, when the army of Islam moved in that direction, at the very beginning, in the vicinity of the city of Iznikmid, which was in the sultan’s possession, the guardians of the fortress of Hereke, who had resigned themselves to Istanbul in the time of the emir Timur’s anarchy, left the fortress empty and fled to Istanbul. As soon as that spacious region came into the possession of the Islamic people without struggle and hostilities, [the sultan’s troops] went out of it and advanced to the town of Güyebize, located one day’s journey from Istanbul. The infidels of that place, setting hopes on the strength of [their] fortifications, had in mind war and rebellion and were prepared for opposition and defense. Willingly or not, the mujāhid  soldiers, the brave spirits and heroes of battlefields, with effort, endeavor, and exertion, mercilessly attacked the fortress, and conquered the fortress of Güyebize with ease. The army of Islam seized uncountable spoils, put in order the city and its vicinities by the laws of the faith and the rules of the true justice, appointed ḥākim and qāḍī, and assigned [all] necessary for governing the country. From there [the army] approached the place of Nekite and the fortresses of Pendikla and Kartal. From fear of the mujāhids’ punishment all of them hastened to obey, and the fortresses’ guardians left fortifications and castles and fled to Istanbul, while Umur-bek sent courageous men and, taking hold of all the castles, joined [them] to “the Land of Islam.” When all those settlements and fortresses – with their surrouding regions, arable lands, and pastures on the sea coast from the city of Iznikmid to the coast of the passage to Istanbul – were conquered, the sultan, owner of the Muḥammadan qualities, in accordance with what he had in his sublime mind, turned into waqf  all those settlements and places as his gift to God and also increased those waqfs by adding other profitable grants and highly gainful lands. Up to now, those excellent madrasas have been extremely populous, and the best of all the madrasas of the city of Bursa and their professors’ and students’ allowance has been more abundant and more significant than in all other madrasas of the sultans of Rūm: for instance, their professors’ everyday allowance, with other incomes, exceeds 100 akçe. Imarets, zâviye, dârülziyâfe, inns, places of eating and meeting are uncountable and so numerous that the magnificence of the Sultans of the Universe becomes exceptional.”

Bitlîsî’s account can be supplemented with additional information found in the versions of Aşıkpaşazâde and Sadettin. In the reign of Mehmed I, the Ottoman army, setting out from Nikomedeia (Iznikmid) in the direction of Skoutari on the ancient military road, conquered one after another Hereke (Χάραξ), Güyebize (∆ακίβυζα, now Gebze), Nekite (Νικητίατα/Νικητίατον, now Eskihisar, south of Gebze), Pendikla (Παντείχιον, now Pendik), and Kartal (Καρταλιµήν). Aşıkpaşazâde (and Sadettin) omits Nekite in his list of fortresses and adds Darıca (Ῥίτζιον). All these fortresses with their environs, which included arable and pasture lands, up to Skoutari were subjugated. All the fortresses were abandoned by their garrisons, who fled to Constantinople, and were taken without a fight, except Dakibyza, which resisted and was finally stormed; as a punishment for its resistance, it was plundered according to the laws of war.

jk                 John Kantakouzenos

In June 1329, Andronikos III and John Kantakouzenos undertook a desperate attempt to lift the blockade of Nicaea, which both strategically and ideologically meant a great deal to the Byzantines at that time, and landed in Mesothynia with an army. The emperor was defeated by the Turks by Pelekanon and Philokrene (west to Nikomedeia near Dakibyza); however, Mesothynia most likely remained under Byzantine control. The time of Mesothynia’s conquest by the Turks is considered to be 1337, that is, after the fall of Nikomedeia, although we have no detailed information about the circumstances of that Ottoman campaign. In any case, approximately after 1337 Mesothynia was certainly under the control of the Ottoman Turks.

The return of lands in Anatolia to the Byzantines in 1403 has survived in other sources, which, however, cannot be explained without the help of the Ottoman texts. The accounts of the Ottoman historians put everything in place: Süleyman Çelebi handed over to John VII, in particular, Mesothynia with the fortresses of Charax, Dakibyza, Niketiata, Ritzion, Panteichion, and Kartalimen.

The Byzantines’ eagerness in 1402–03 to establish control over the castles is absolutely transparent: first, they potentially restored Byzantine power over the Propontis and regained the ability to close it to enemy ships; and, second, they undoubtedly cherished hopes to further their success and shift the fight with the Turks to Anatolia in case of favorable circumstances. However, fate did not give them that chance. During the Ottoman reconquest, the Byzantine garrison actively resisted the Ottomans only in Dakibyza, one of the last battles against Turks in the history of the empire.

The Ottoman campaign in 1419 (the Ottoman reconquest of Mesothynia) is completely understandable: in all probability, it was Mehmed I’s punitive action for the Byzantine support of Pseudo-Mustafa and Cüneyt’s revolt in 1415–16 (after that point, Mehmed I’s attitude to the Byzantines became hostile).

According to Beldiceanu’s study of the Ottoman tapu ve tahrir defter of 1419, the majority of the population of the coastal regions was Greek. Beldiceanu has also noted that the Greek population in Mesothynia after 1419 enjoyed considerable tax benefits, which can be explained by its recent reconquest by the Ottomans. On the other hand, one may add that the predominance of the Greek population might well indicate the deliberate Hellenization of the region by the Byzantine administration during 1403–19 because of its strategic importance.

Even if Mesothynia experienced rapid Hellenization in 1403–19, it could hardly have completely eliminated the old Turkic population living there for three generations from 1337 to 1403. It would be logical to expect that some of the Turks who had remained under the Byzantine rule in the Balkans and Anatolia after 1403 had become naturalized and were integrated into Byzantine society. Still, the available Byzantine and Ottoman sources are silent in this regard. It is obvious, however, that after 1403, on recovering the territories, which had long been assimilated by the Ottoman Turks, Byzantium experienced the last infusion of the Turks into its own population and again, as in the past, had communities of Byzantine Turks in its own territory.

In 1403–19, along with Hellenization, there developed in the region the inevitable process of incorporation of the residual Turkic population into the Byzantine legal framework. According to the Ottoman defters, in the 1430s, many timariots were moved from Mesothynia to Albania. Were they not those former Byzantine Turks whom the Ottomans had preferred to move for the sake of ensuring their complete loyalty? Perhaps these timariots, or some of them, were residual traces of the old Turkic population, which had been naturalized in Mesothynia under Byzantine rule in the years 1403–19.

(Source: “The Byzantine Turks, 1204-1461”, by Rustam Shukurov)

Mehmet_I_honoraries_miniature          Mehmed I

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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