A Short History of War by Jeremy Black

A Short History of War by Jeremy Black

Author:Jeremy Black [Black, Jeremy]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: history, Military, General, World, social history
ISBN: 9780300262957
Publisher: Yale University Press
Published: 2021-09-28T00:24:21.352523+00:00


The Ottoman Powerhouse

Things are different today from what they were thirty or forty years ago. Back then we talked about the Turks as if we were talking about the Antipodes, but now they come so close . . . it is normal for their fleet to sail by this island every year.

Viceroy of Sicily, 1557

When Mehmed II captured Constantinople in 1453, the last Byzantine emperor dying in the unsuccessful defence, he served notice of a great change in the military balance. So did his grandson, Selim I, in 1517, when taking Cairo from the Mamluks, and his great-grandson, Süleyman the Magnificent, in 1526, when capturing Budapest from the Hungarians.

With an empire that lasted more than half a millennium, the Ottomans were the most successful of the several Turkic peoples who played such a major role in Eurasia’s military history. There had been no empire ruling Anatolia, Syria, Egypt or the Balkans since Byzantium (the Eastern Roman empire) at its height in the seventh century. The Ottomans combined the classic fluidity of Asian light cavalry tactics with, from the late fourteenth century, an effective use of infantry and finally artillery. European rivals were defeated in battle, notably the Serbs at Kosovo in 1389 and the Hungarians at Varna in 1444 and Mohacs in 1526. Handguns became more important for the Ottomans from the late fifteenth century, and helped lead to victory at Başkent in 1473 over the Türkmen cavalry of the Aqquyunlu of Iraq. However, in the 1510s, most of the Ottoman infantry still carried bows.

It is all too easy to forget the human cost. Thus, in the Peloponnese in Greece in 1460, after his troops were repulsed in their first attack on Kastrion, Mehmed II addressed them, promising ‘splendid rewards to those who should fight well, and stated that the fortress would be pillaged’. The women and children were indeed enslaved. Two years later, one-third of the population of captured Mitylene in the Aegean was enslaved and distributed to the soldiers, and all the captured Italian defenders killed.

Religion could impart particular enthusiasm to campaigns against both Christian nations and Shi’ite Persia under its Safavid dynasty. Its founder, Isma’il, was seen as having divine attributes and deserving absolute obedience, being regarded as the reincarnation of Imam Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and the founder of Shi’a Islam, or as ‘the Hidden Imam’, a millenarian figure. Conversion to Shi’ism helped provide coherence to the tribes supporting Isma’il, while the conquest of Iraq brought the prestige of gaining control over major Shi’a shrines, notably Karbala. In contrast, Sunni shrines were desecrated and prominent Sunnis slaughtered.

In addition to the general challenge to the Sunnism of the Ottoman sultans, support among the peoples of eastern Anatolia for the Safavids and their millenarism threatened Ottoman control and security and their sense of religious identity. Moreover, in 1505, Isma’il claimed Trebizond, and thus a coastline on the Black Sea. Attacking Persia in 1514, Selim I obtained a fatwa declaring his opponents heretics. The resonance in recent conflict in the region, between Sunni and Shi’a, and notably over Iraq, is striking.


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