chapter  6
26 Pages

The Ottoman reaction

The conquest of Constantinople is arguably the single most important event in Ottoman history, but this is scarcely the impression left by Ottoman historians. The fi rst Ottoman historians of the conquest, Tursun Beg, Neshri and Ashikpashazade, are non-committal. It was not until the end of the sixteenth century that the conquest came to be seen as a landmark in the forward march of the Ottoman Empire. The problem was in part a historiographical one. With one or two exceptions early Ottoman historical writing was at a rudimentary state of development. 1 It was only in the course of the sixteenth century that a school of Ottoman historians emerged, which was at least the equal of its counterparts elsewhere. These Ottoman historians were able to fi t the conquest of Constantinople into a coherent narrative of the history of the Ottoman dynasty. 2 This was less easy to do nearer the event itself, which appeared to call into question some of the fundamentals of the Ottoman enterprise, as it had hitherto existed. It revived the misgivings produced by the ambitions of Yildirim Bayezid (1389-1402). His victory over the crusaders at the battle of Nikopolis in 1396 confi rmed the Ottoman hold on its Balkan conquests. It pointed the way to the trans formation of a loose collection of frontier territories and warlords into an Islamic Empire. Posing as successor to the Seljuqs of Rum, who had ruled over Anatolia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Bayezid set about the systematic annexation of their territories. This made the conquest of Constantinople all the more urgent on a number of counts. It fi tted with a belief that this had been the ultimate goal of the Seljuqs; it would help to unify Bayezid’s European and Anatolian territories but most of all, it would provide a fi tting capital for a new imperial power. As it turned out, Bayezid’s plans were no more than a mirage, but one that continued to haunt the Ottomans.