Thursday, September 12, 2013

Goodnight Vienna: The Song of Jan Sobieski

Part 1

On the evening of September 11, 1683, Jan Sobieski, the King of Poland, stood among the woods on one of the western hills overlooking Vienna, the capital of the Hapsburg Empire.  In front of him was the city, surrounded by its massive walls and defended by a small garrison which was, in turn, surrounded by the army of the Ottoman Empire which had besieged the city since July 14 and was now on the verge of taking it.   As the evening wore on was he thinking about Goodnight Vienna, the title song of Ringo Starr's 1975 album, composed by John Lennon, perhaps as part of a collective unconscious memory of a future event (as suggested by THC in Fat Bass)?  Perhaps not.  Now, where was I?  Oh, yes, what was the King of Poland doing lurking about in the hills outside Vienna that night?  What train of events brought him there onto the territory of the Hapsburg Emperor, Leopold I?  And why are the events of the following day so important?

Those events started a thousand years earlier.  Although not exclusively a religious tale (on that, see more below) it began with the assaults of Moslem armies on Europe, starting in the east with the first (and unsuccessful) siege of Constantinople (674-77), the Byzantine capital,(Wikipedia Commons) and in the west, with the landing of the Berber/Arab forces of Tariq ibn Ziyad at Gibraltar in 711.  On the Iberian peninsula the Moslem invaders quickly destroyed the Visigoth kingdom, sweeping through all but the mountainous northwest corner and surging into France, raiding as far north of the Loire River until turned back by Charles Martel near Tours in 732.  For the next 300 years, Christian rulers maintained a tenuous hold on the northern area of Iberia before launching the reconquista which was completed in 1492, followed immediately by the expulsion of the Jews and, in 1609, by a final expulsion of Moslems, and the decision to support the Genoese sailor Christoforo Colombo in his crazy scheme to sail west to India.

In the Central Mediterranean, the attacks, launched from North Africa by Arabs and Berbers, began with a landing in Sicily in 828 and the conquest of the entire island by the end of the century.  The tangled relationships between Arabs and Christians can be seen in what happened during the 9th and 10th centuries in Southern Italy, a region fragmented among duchies, principalities and empires.  On one hand, Arab raiders plundered the island of Ischia (near Naples) in 812 and, in 846, sacked those parts of Rome outside the ancient Aurelian walls, including looting relics from the original St Peters Basilica.  It was this period that saw the construction of the Saracen towers on the Amalfi Coast to provide warning against Moorish slave raiders.  On land, Arab emirates were established on the heel of Italy at Bari (846-71) and Taranto (until 879) from
                                                   (Saracen Tower on Amalfi Coast near Praiano)
which raids were conducted deep into interior Italy the main booty from which were slaves and leading to widespread devastation, including Apulia, Italy(location of Bari and Taranto) the destruction of the abbey at Monte Cassino.  Even after the emirates were destroyed land and sea raids continued well into the next century.(From Wikipedia; includes some inaccuracies, such as missing Duchy of Naples, between Amalfi and Capua, but close enough)

On the other hand, Neapolitan merchants sold slaves to the Arabs and imported Arab mercenaries to protect the Duchy from the neighboring Christian Lombard (Benevento, Capua and Salerno) principalities.  The relationship of the Duchy of Naples with the Arab states and the number of Arabs residing in the city led the Carolingian Emperor Louis II, while campaigning in the area, to complain that Naples was a "second Palermo [the Arab capital of Sicily] or Africa".  When a civil war broke out between the Lombard principalities each hired large bands of Arab mercenaries who were allowed to plunder the area during their "down time" between fighting and when Gaeta, a coastal principality between Naples and Rome, felt threatened by its neighbors it imported an Arab band which carved out a territory from which it launched raids for three decades.  The Duchy of Amalfi grew rich on its trade with North Africa and Egypt and when the Pope and the Byzantines attempted to form a Christian alliance to drive the Moslems from the region it failed because Salerno, Naples and Amalfi entered into a peace treaty with the Arabs. All this finally ended when in the late 11th century, Norman adventurers reached Italy and began establishing a kingdom on both the Italian mainland and in Sicily, completing the conquest of the island in the 12th century, though slave raids from North Africa and later, the Ottoman Empire, were to continue for hundreds of years (it is estimated that over a million Europeans were taken as slaves in these raids, which extended as far north as Ireland, between the 9th and 19th centuries). Of course the slave trade went both ways and not just in Naples.  During the 9th-11th centuries the Scandinavians who established raiding and trading colonies in what is now Russia, sold Slav slaves to the Abbasid Caliphate based in Baghdad and during the 10th century heyday of the Cordoba Caliphate in Spain it purchased Slav slaves captured by Christian Crusades against still-pagan Slavs in the Baltics.  Later, as the Christian reconquest of Spain progressed, Muslims in the recovered territories were routinely enslaved; for instance, in the 13th century after the conquest of the island of Minorca by the Kingdom of Aragon almost the entire population was sold into slavery.

The East saw several surges back and forth between Christians and Moslems.  Between the 7th and 9th centuries, the Islamic Caliphate kept the pressure on the Byzantine Empire.  Though they failed to capture Constantinople the Byzantine empire remained weak and all of its remaining Asian possessions, in what is now Turkey, were constantly raided and plundered.  Beginning in 863, the Byzantines regained the initiative, eventually recapturing Antioch in Syria and reaching the modern day borders of Iraq and Iran but after a disastrous defeat in 1071 at the hands of the Seljuk Turks (who had recently arrived from central Asia) at the Battle of Manzikert, the Byzantines lost most of their Asian lands over the next 20 years and issued an appeal to Christian Europe for help, triggering the Crusades.

The sequence of Crusades went through two phases.  In the first (1098-1187), the Christians were broadly successful, recapturing Jerusalem (first occupied by the Moslems in 634) and establishing kingdoms in Lebanon and Syria.  The second phase (1187-1291) saw a resurgent Arab coalition, initially led by Saladin, and the fall of Jerusalem and the extinguishing of the Christian kingdoms.  In the midst of this the Byzantines suffered another massive defeat in 1181 and lost most of their Asia possessions.  The mixture of motives underlying the Crusades is illustrated when, in response to another Byzantine call for help against the Moslems a Western European, Catholic led crusade in 1204 ended up directed not against its supposed target but resulted instead in the sacking of the Orthodox Christian city of Constantinople and setting the Byzantine Empire on the last phase of its slow decline.

It was out of the wreckage of the former Byzantine provinces located near the Sea of Mamara, in what is now western Turkey, that the Ottomans first arose in the late 13th century.  The origins of the Ottoman state remain murky and there is still controversy over the extent to which it was Islamic inspired in its early years or arose as a confederacy of raiders open to anyone whether Moslem or Christian, though predominantly led by Moslems (see, for instance, The Nature of the Early Ottoman State by Heath Lowry, 2003).

Regardless of its specific origin, the Ottoman state was fortunate in that its first eleven rulers, from the accession of Osman in 1299 to the death of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1566 were very capable and the state expanded to become an empire.  After seizing much of the Aegean coast of Turkey, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, seizing Gallipoli in 1354.(Suleiman)  Over the next few decades their armies overran much of the Balkans, including defeating the King of Serbia on the fields of Kosovo in 1389, the lingering Serbian memory of which led to the war in Kosovo during the 1990s.  The great Aegean port of Salonica fell in 1402 and by 1420 Turkish territory completely surrounded the shrunken remnants of the Byzantine empire which was reduced to Constantinople and a few outposts in Greece.

The Christian Kingdoms of Europe launched two crusades against the Turks but these were crushingly defeated at Nikopolis in 1396 and Varna in 1444 (both in Bulgaria) and so the area consisting of present day Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Albania became subject to the Ottomans for most of the next four centuries.  In 1453 Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans and the last morsels of the Byzantine Empire were gone by 1461.  In 1480 an Ottoman force briefly landed in Southern Italy and their momentum seemed unstoppable but their gaze was to turn away from Europe.

For the next few decades the Ottoman rulers looked eastward and their armies overran the Middle East and Egypt bringing them to the borders of the Persian Empire and taking control of the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

When Suleiman the Magnificent began his rule in 1521 Ottoman ambitions returned to Europe.  As recounted in The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, the Grand Turk seized the island of Rhodes from the Knights Hospitallers.  In the Balkans, the Hungarian king was killed at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526 and within a few years a Turkish Pasha was sitting in Budapest, Wallachia and Moldavia (current day Romania) became Ottoman vassals and in 1529 the Turks made their first attempt to capture the Hapsburg capital of Vienna.File:OttomanEmpireIn1683.png

This period also saw the growth of the Ottoman Navy.  The shipyards at Constantinople produced scores of well-equipped galleons and the new vassal corsair states of North Africa (Algiers, Tunis, Oran) supplied brilliant admirals (and pirates) like Hayreddin Barbarossa. Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha.jpg During the mid-16th century its fleet controlled the Mediterranean.  And it had a Christian ally in its contest with the House of Hapsburg, ruler of much of central Europe and Spain.  The greatest European enemy of the Hapsburgs was the King of France and the King was willing to make common cause with the Turks despite religious differences.  This cooperation reached its peak in the 1540s when the Turkish navy was allowed to winter at Toulon in the south of France.  In the spring, on their cruise back to Constantinople, the Turks seized 6,000 captives from Italian coastal villages.

Throughout this period economic, geopolitical and religious matters led to alliances and conflicts that were not just along Christian/Moslem lines.  France's primary enemies were the Habsburgs in Germany, Austria and Spain, making the Ottomans a natural ally.  Poland saw the Habsburgs and Russia as their biggest threats and were often willing to make accommodations with the Ottomans who viewed the same two entities as enemies and recognized the value of Poland as a counterweight.  Once Protestantism told hold in northern and central Europe there were occasional alliances of convenience between the Christians reformers and the Ottomans against the Catholic Habsburgs (this aspect would play a role in the events leading to the Ottoman attack on Vienna in 1683 - see Part II for more).  Once England rejected the Catholic church and came into conflict with Spain it sought out the Ottomans as a potential ally.  In 1590-1 Sultan Murad, Henry IV of France and Elizabeth I of England attempted to negotiate a common strategic plan for attacking Spain, including an Ottoman attack on Portugal (then under Spanish rule) in order to install an English backed claimant to its throne.  Though the plan did not come to fruition, it demonstrates the complex motives that drove European alliances and conflicts.

The end of Suleiman's regime saw the contest between the European kingdoms and the Ottomans become more even.  In 1565 the Turkish siege of Malta ended with a humiliating defeat and, in 1571, a combined Hapsburg, Venetian, Genoese, Papal and Maltese fleet wrecked the Ottoman navy in the Gulf of Lepanto on the Greek coast, though the corsair raids continued and the coastal fishing villages on the north side of the sea remained in fear for centuries. 

With stalemate at sea the Ottomans were beginning to be drawn into a more settled relationship with the other European powers as ambassadors began to be regularly exchanged and more Europeans visited Constantinople but the fight for dominance was not over and further alliances across religions would be forged in this struggle.

Part 2  . . . Tomorrow

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