Sunday, September 13, 2015

BURSA 1317–1326

Forces Engaged
Byzantine: Unknown. Commander: Unknown.
Turkish: Unknown. Commander: Osman I and then Orkhan.

The capture of Bursa established Osman I (Othman) and his successors as the major power in Asia Minor, beginning the Ottoman Empire.

Historical Setting
The peoples known as Turks originated not in the Turkey of today but in Turkestan in central Asia. In the middle of the sixth century a.d., they formed themselves into a large tribal confederation and then shortly thereafter split into eastern and western factions. The eastern Turkic tribes interacted strongly with the Chinese, most notably the T’ ang dynasty, and alternately aided or were defeated by the Chinese. The western Turkic tribes, however, were better known as conquerors for their occupation of territory stretching from the Oxus River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Their first major entry into western history came with their contact with Arabs spreading Islam past Persia and toward central Asia. The pastoral Turks became exposed to the civilizations of Persia and the Byzantine Empire and began a gradual conversion to western religions, mainly but not exclusively Islam. Soon Turkic soldiers served in Moslem armies, either as volunteers or as slave soldiers, forerunners of the Mamluks or the Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire. They soon became ghazi, or border warriors, hired by Moslem governments to protect the northeastern frontier. At this point, the western Turks also split, the eastern faction becoming the Ghaznavids and the western becoming the Seljuks.

Most of the Turks embraced the more orthodox Sunni branch of Islam, and they spread the faith as well as practiced it. Based out of the city of Ghazna (some 90 miles southwest of modern Kabul, Afghanistan), the Ghaznavids in the tenth and eleventh centuries spread their power and religion eastward into India. Their most notable achievement was the introduction of Islam into India, though their use of forced conversions often made them more feared than welcomed. They were defeated not by Indian resistance but by the Seljuks.

Named for its first major leader, Seljuk or Selchuk, the western Turkic tribes also served Moslem governments. Their position on the Asian frontier attracted growing numbers of Islamicized Turkic tribes, and soon the land grants ceded by the Moslems proved inadequate for the needs of so many pastoral people. Their growth in numbers gave them an increased military strength as well as a growing need for grazing lands. As the Moslem Buyid dynasty grew weak and the Ghaznavids looked toward India, the Seljuks found conquest of the lands west of Persia relatively simple. They defeated the Ghaznavids in 1040 and then occupied Baghdad in 1055. They did not take the city to pillage it but to return it to Sunni control from the less orthodox Shi’ites. The marriage of the Seljuk chief to the sister of the caliph, and his resulting promotion to the position of sultan, established the Seljuks as the premiere military and political force in the Middle East.

Filled with religious zeal, the Seljuks conquered Armenia, the Levant, and into Asia Minor; Malik Shah, the most successful Seljuk military leader, scored a major victory over Byzantine forces at Manzikert in 1071. In spite of their desire to reestablish the Sunni sect of Islam, the Seljuks did not undertake the practice of forced conversions, which the Ghaznavids did in India. Though they made subjects of Christians and Jews, they did not persecute them; the Seljuks followed Mohammed’s teachings of religious tolerance. Once established in Asia Minor, they chose as their capital city Konia, a site occupied since the Hittites at the dawn of recorded history. It became a center for culture and learning. The orthodoxy of the Sunni Seljuks frightened Europeans, who rejected peaceful interaction in favor of militant Christianity and mounted the Crusades. Although the Crusades brought about no lasting European presence in the Middle East, and the Seljuks remained in power, they finally were doomed to destruction in the same manner that brought them to power: invasion from central Asia, the Mongols of the thirteenth century. Their occupation of Asia Minor ultimately weakened the Byzantine Empire to the point that it fell to the successors of the Seljuks, the Ottoman Empire.

The Campaign
The formation of the Ottoman Empire was very much a matter of timing and location. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the power of the Mongols had waned, as had that of the Byzantine Empire. In the region in and around Asia Minor, a power vacuum formed. The people living in Asia Minor were basically still a steppe society, uncomfortable with a settled lifestyle and militarily aggressive. Such a combination had served to keep the Seljuks from ever establishing an extended dominion; attempts by political leaders to convince the people to settle down and pay taxes resulted in rebellion. The Turks followed strong leaders, no matter their birth, and, for a strong leader to maintain his following, he needed conquests to keep his people occupied and provide operating capital.

Osman I (or Othman) became the main prince of Asia Minor who attracted warriors. His land, awarded to him in 1290 for service to the Seljuks, was based on the town of Sorgut, supposedly established as a regional stronghold by Hannibal. Sorgut was located southeast of Constantinople, fairly near the Sea of Marmora. This meant that Osman’s lands abutted the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire. That location was the primary reason that warriors flocked to his banner; fighting Christians was more honorable and lucrative than fighting fellow Turks. Osman’s campaigns against the Byzantines were at times mere raids for loot and at other times intentional territorial acquisitions, and they both attracted the attention of Constantinople. Of all the Asia Minor princes, Osman was deemed the greatest threat.

Osman focused his attentions on three primary targets: Nicaea (modern Iznik), Nicomedia (modern Izmit), and Bursa (modern Bursa). He first laid siege to Nicaea in 1301. This action attracted the attention of the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II to him. The Byzantine government dispatched a force of 2,000 men to relieve the siege, but Osman ambushed and destroyed them at Baphaeon. The local population evacuated the country-side and fled to Nicomedia. The emperor hired some Alan mercenaries to deal with Osman, but they too were defeated (1302 and 1304). Osman was unable, however, to overcome either Nicaea or Nicomedia, so he returned to raiding.

Bursa had once been a town as important as Nicaea and Nicomedia, but after the invasion of the Goths in the third century only the latter two were restored under Byzantine rule. Just before Constantine established the empire and Nicaea was still the regional capital, Bursa had its walls restored. It was such a good job of reconstruction that, when Osman began his siege in 1317, the town held out for more than 9 years. As to the details of the siege of Bursa, almost nothing exists. It was a long siege, and that is about all that can be said, other than some sources say it may have been intermittent rather than continuous. When it fell on 6 April 1326, Osman lay dying, so he never saw the inside of the city. His son, Orkhan, became the second leader of the dynasty that became known as the Ottomans. Upon his occupation of the city, he named it the capital of the emerging Ottoman Empire. Whatever damage that had been inflicted during the siege was quickly repaired and the town’s former elegance was restored. It became “a great city with fine bazaars and broad streets, worthy of the greatest of the Turkmen kings” (Muller, The Loom of History, p. 301).

Although Osman was the father of the ruling line, it was Orkhan who really established the power of the Ottomans. He succeeded in capturing Nicaea in 1331 after beating back a Byzantine relief force and then he took Nicomedia in 1337. All of this served to attract even more warriors to the Ottoman cause. Although there were occasional periods of peace (Orkhan married a Byzantine princess), for the most part the Moslem Ottomans and the Christian Byzantines were at odds. Orkhan’s son Suleiman led troops across the Dardanelles to conquer Thrace, and the empire’s capital was transferred from Bursa to Adrianople. In 1453, another of Osman’s descendants, Mehmet, captured Constantinople. He renamed the city Istanbul and it remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire until its demise in 1919.

The Ottomans succeeded where the Seljuks failed because they were able to overcome their nomadic heritage. “The astonishing achievement of the Ottomans was breaking the cycle of birth, short life, then dissolution that characterized the earlier nomadic empires” (McCarthy, The Ottoman Turks, p. 36). This was the result primarily of the uncanny abilities of the first nine Ottoman sultans, who put together a 200-year chain of able rulers. By maintaining war against the Byzantines, then the Christians of southeastern Europe, and then the Shi’ites of Persia, the Ottomans were able to harness the warlike nature of their people. However, by adopting Christian/European advisors, military advancements, and technology, they gradually introduced a more settled lifestyle. The sultan ruled from the capital, and the provinces pretty much ruled themselves, but a common culture, religion, and economic life held the population together. Osman’s life of warfare against the Byzantines and his legacy of wisdom and strength in leadership turned the city of Bursa into an imperial capital and then, when it was left behind for bigger and better power centers, a beautiful city: “The successors of Orkhan beautified and sanctified the city by building mosques and tombs, the earliest Ottoman shrines” (Muller, The Loom of History, p. 301).

Koprulu, Mehmet. The Seljuks of Anatolia. Translated by Gary Leiser. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992; McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks. New York: Longman, 1997; Muller, Herbert. The Loom of History. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958; Parry, V. J. A History of the Ottoman Empire to 1730. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976

The Ottoman Army – An Overview

Years earlier, when the state of the Anatolian Seljuks had developed into a fully formed Islamic sultanate, three border areas had been identified as marcher lands that could be more easily defended if fanatical Muslim ghazis were allowed to operate there. In the south such ghazi raids were directed against the Christian lands of Lesser Armenia and Cyprus. In the north the main effort was made against the Christian empire of Trebizond (Trabzon). The western marches, where the Ottomans emerged, lay along the Byzantine frontier.

The marches were wild frontier lands where nomads driven there by the Seljuks and refugees from the Mongol conquests came together to seek a better life. In each of these areas Seljuk interests were maintained by a hereditary emir (commander) of the marches. The main military strength within the marches, however, lay with the Turcoman tribes under their own beys (leaders), who were linked to the emirs through bonds of personal loyalty. These were nonetheless unstable organisations that could dissolve and re-form under up-and-coming ghazis. To the chroniclers of the Seljuk state such men were useful but unreliable robber barons prone to rebellion at a moment's notice.

The Ottoman beylik was one among several principalities that prospered initially at the expense of their Byzantine neighbours. Their new lands were strictly speaking part of the marches that came under the successive jurisdiction of the local emir, the Seljuk sultans and the Mongol Ilkhans. In reality, however, the ghazi beys regarded themselves as being independent in the former Byzantine territories that they had conquered.

The ghazi warriors who fought for Osman provided the nucleus of what was to become the army of the Ottoman Empire. Some had once been tribal leaders. Others had been emirs under the Seljuk sultans, but what all of them had in common was a fanatical devotion to Islam and a commitment to extending Muslim influence through warfare. They had plenty of opportunity for this because the borders were so unstable. According to the historian Oruj, the Ottomans were:

Ghazis and champions striving in the way of truth and the path of Allah, gathering the fruits of ghaza and expending them in the way of Allah, choosing truth, striving for religion, lacking pride in the world, following the way of the Sharia, taking revenge on polytheists, friends of strangers, blazing forth the way of Islam from the East to the West.

The Ottoman Empire lived for war. Every governor in this empire was a general and every policeman was a Janissary. Every mountain pass had its guards and every road had a military destination. It was a commitment that stretched to the very top of Ottoman society. At the siege of Baghdad in 1683, when the Persians demanded that the contest be decided by single combat, Sultan Mehmet IV took on the task himself and killed the Persian champion. 'For this I was born, to bear arms,' said Bayezid the Thunderbolt, and when a European visitor got the chance to see Mehmet the Conqueror's army in the field in 1462 he surmised that such splendid troops could conquer all of Europe if they chose.

As the empire expanded the 'marches' of the Ottoman lands moved to the Balkans, where marcher traditions similar to the old patterns soon developed. The expression ghazi gave way to akinji (raiders), who tended to be volunteers from Anatolia drawn to the frontier lands by the prospect of gaining a timar (fief), for themselves. The akinji were used by the Ottomans as an auxiliary militia for intelligence gathering in enemy territory. Renegade Christians were often recruited into their ranks.

The akinji usually set off on a raid each equipped with two horses, and were organised in units of tens, hundreds and thousands. As the Ottoman light cavalry the akinji carried a sword, a shield, a scimitar a lance and a mace. Leaders called sanjak bey (provincial leaders) commanded them. Casual raiding became a less frequent occupation as the empire grew and by the time of the battle of Mohacs in 1526, the akinji were well accustomed to being employed for penetrating enemy territory ahead of the main Ottoman Army. They would secure bridges and take prisoners for interrogation.

The akinji bands roamed far and wide, and never were they more enthusiastic than when they marched with the Sultan in the vanguard of his army as they hoped to be rewarded for their skill by promotion to the ranks of the regular army. It was every horseman's dream to enrol in the permanent army and receive the stipend known as a timar that would free him from economic worries and allow him to concentrate on war. He would then also be the recipient of a certain number of imperial taxes himself, even though the Ottoman Sultan owned all the land. In one particularly bloody assault a single timar was awarded and then re-awarded eight times after the previous recipients died fighting. At the siege of Belgrade the Janissaries stormed the walls over a moat filled with dead akinji.

The famous Janissaries were the elite of the Ottoman Army and for centuries were ranked among the finest infantry in Europe. They were originally recruited exclusively from the products of a system whereby Christian boys of between about eight and 15 years of age were selected from the conquered territories as 'tribute children'. They were trained in Turkish speech and customs and converted (often willingly) to Islam. After a period of intense physical training they were drafted into either the army or government posts according to their abilities. In the former case they filled the ranks of the Janissaries, whose status as 'slave soldiers' is totally misleading in view of the high office that was open to them and the immense trust placed in them.

Some janissary units provided the Sultan's bodyguard. At the battle of Varna in 1444 the formidable janissaries occupied the centre positions with a ditch around them. Behind them stood the camels, while further behind was a breastwork of shields fixed to the ground in front of the other janissaries who guarded the Sultan.

It is worth noting the additional presence in the marches of the sipahis (free cavalrymen) who were loyal to the local bey. The Sipahis were invariably Muslim Turks. They were scattered across the empire, always on the move from billet to billet, and from billet to the front line. Even madmen had their own regiment: the deli, or maniacs, the 'riskers of souls' who allowed themselves to be used as human battering rams.

The Ottomans were the first state to maintain a standing army in Europe since Roman times - paid, fed and unleashed through unsurpassable feats of organisation. When they marched on Persia in 1548 they were so well provisioned that they could cheerfully ignore the scorched earth landscape created by the Shah. Nowhere was their organisation better displayed than in camp. Western military camps were babels of disorder, drunkenness and debauchery. The Ottoman camps were disturbed by nothing louder than the sound of a mallet on a tent peg. 'I think there is no prince', wrote the chronicler Chalkondylas, 'who has his armies and camps in better order, both in abundance of victuals and in the beautiful order they use in encampment without any confusion or embarrassment.' Also, while western rulers needed to cajole or threaten their vassals the Ottoman armies assembled like clockwork. Their transport camels gave them a keen logistical advantage and the Ottomans always carefully analysed the problems of war. liach winter the previous year's campaigns were subject to a stringent post-mortem enhanced by reports from a network of spies. Weaknesses would be noted and plans made for the coming year.

The Vandals as a Naval Power

Later Roman  Liburnian type galley

Geiseric (428–477) was certainly the most important of the Vandal kings, and indeed was among the most influential figures of the fifth century Mediterranean world. It was under his watch that the Vandals crossed into Africa, and secured the two imperial treaties of settlement in 435 and 442. He established the position of the Vandals as a major naval power by commandeering the Carthaginian merchant marine, and was able to spread Vandal authority into Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands.

Fall of Carthage to the Vandals aggrieved the western and eastern empire, as there was a large number of galleys and a great shipyards in Carthage, creating the Vandal fleet as the equal to the joint navy of the two empires. That the empire ever allowed for so many galleys to be left in Carthage's port while the Vandals were so close by, must be one of the most monumental blunders of its history. For the first time in nearly 6 centuries, Carthage became the greatest danger to Rome since the Punic Wars.


AD 468 witnessed the most ambitious campaign ever launched against the Vandal state in Africa, which deserves admiration for its logistical brilliance, if not its eventual result. A massive naval operation, under the command of the emperor’s brother-in-law Basiliscus, lay at the heart of this offensive, which was intended to strike directly at the Vandal capital. The statistics for this campaign given by sixth- and seventh-century historians are clearly grotesquely exaggerated, but even if we can reject Theophanes’ assertion that the fleet numbered 100,000 ships or even John the Lydian’s more modest (but still unlikely) figure of 10,000 ships, it is clear that the logistical operation was massive. Marcian ordered the extensive requisition of merchant shipping in eastern ports, including considerable numbers of Carthaginian vessels. Simultaneously, western troops were mustered under Anthemius or Ricimer, and Sicily was again taken by Marcellinus and his barbarian federates.

The mobilization of this campaign startled the inhabitants of Carthage into action. The Suevic and Gothic envoys in the city fled, and Geiseric rapidly deployed his own legates in an attempt to make peace. Quite what happened next is unclear, but Geiseric’s overtures apparently had some effect. In the early stages of the campaign, the imperial forces enjoyed some success, and may even have defeated Vandal ships sent out to intercept them. Crucially, however, Basiliscus delayed the crucial landing operations and kept his ships anchored at Mercurium off the African coast for five days. Various explanations for this delay circulated among later historians. Some suggested that Basiliscus had simply been bought off by Geiseric, others that Aspar had promised him the eastern throne if he agreed to sacrifice his fleet to the Vandal allies of the magister militum. Whatever the cause, the delay proved to be fatal. After a long stand-off, a shift in the wind allowed Geiseric to launch a fire-ship raid on the becalmed fleet. The effects were devastating. Basiliscus’ vast armada was scattered and the opportunity for a crippling blow at Carthage was lost.

As Basiliscus led his fleet towards the cataclysm of Mercurium, and Marcellinus occupied Sicily, a third front was opened up on the southern frontier of the Vandal kingdom. Drawing his army from the Byzantine troops and federates of Egypt, Heracleius led an expedition by sea against the Vandal coastal stronghold of Tripolis. Heracleius occupied the city, and then followed an overland route towards Byzacena, with the intention of uniting with Basiliscus in the Proconsular province. This expedition would have represented a considerable threat to the Vandal kingdom, but it seems to have been halted by news of Basiliscus’ defeat. Apparently demoralized, Heracleius led his army back to the relative safety of Tripolis. Tripolis remained in Byzantine hands until 470 when military pressures on the Balkan frontier, and political infighting at court, required that the troops in Africa be withdrawn. A formal peace treaty was probably signed in the same year.