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The Loss of the S. S. Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons By Lawrence Beesley Characters: 15388

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Towards the middle of the thirteenth century a small band or tribe of nomad Turks migrated from Khorassan, in Central Asia, into Asia Minor. They were part of a much larger body, variously estimated at from two to four thousand horsemen, who, with their families, had fled from their homes in Khorassan under Solyman Shah. They had been driven thence by an invading horde of Mongols from farther east. They hoped to find asylum in Asia Minor. They crossed into Armenia and spent some years in the neighbourhood of Erzerum, plundering the natives there. When the wave of Mongols had spent its force, they proposed to return to Khorassan. On reaching the Euphrates River Solyman, when trying, on horseback, to find a ford, was carried away by the current and drowned. This was reckoned as a bad omen by many of his followers. Two of his sons, with a majority of them, either returned to Central Asia or dispersed on the way there.

Two other sons, Ertoghrul and Dundar, with four hundred and twenty families, retraced their course, and after spending some time again near Erzerum, wandered westward into Asia Minor. They came into a country inhabited by a kindred race. Successive waves of Turks from the same district in Central Asia, in the course of the three previous centuries, had made their way into Asia Minor, and had taken forcible possession of the greater part of it. They formed there an Empire, known as that of the Seljukian Turks, with Konia, the ancient Iconium, as its capital. But this Empire, by the middle of the thirteenth century, was in a decadent condition. It was eventually broken up, in part, by assaults of a fresh swarm of invaders from Central Asia; and in part by internal civil strife, fomented by family disputes of succession.

When Ertoghrul's band appeared on the scene, Sultan Alaeddin ruled at Konia over what remained to him of the Seljukian State. Other remnants of it survived under independent Emirs at Karamania, Sarukhan, Mentsche, and numerous other smaller States. Between them they possessed nearly the whole of Asia Minor, with the exception of a few cities in its north-west, such as Brusa, Nic?a, and Nicomedia and the districts round them, and a belt of territory along the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmora, and the Hellespont, to which the Byzantine Emperors, formerly the owners of nearly the whole of Anatolia, were now reduced. Two small Christian States also still existed there-Trebizond, in the north-east, and Little Armenia, in Cilicia, in the south-east. Though divided among many independent Emirs, the people of Asia Minor, with the exception of the Greeks and Armenians, were fairly welded together. The invading Turks had intermixed with the native population, imposing on them the Turkish language, and had themselves adopted the religion of Islam. Ertoghrul and his nomad tribe, before entering this country, were not Moslems, but they were not strangers in language. Whatever their religion, it was held lightly. They were converted to Islam after a short stay in the country and, as is often the case with neophytes, became ardent professors of their new faith.

The oft-told story of the first exploit of Ertoghrul and his four hundred and twenty horsemen, on coming into the country of the Seljuks, as handed down by tradition, though savouring somewhat of a myth, is as follows: They came unexpectedly upon a battle in which one side was much pressed. They knew nothing of the combatants. Ertoghrul spoke to his followers: "Friends, we come straight on a battle. We carry swords at our side. To flee like women and resume our journey is not manly. We must help one of the two. Shall we aid those who are winning or those who are losing?" Then they said unto him: "It will be difficult to aid the losers. Our people are weak in number and the victors are strong!" Ertoghrul replied: "This is not the speech of bold men. The manly part is to aid the vanquished." Thereupon the whole body of them fell upon the Mongols, who were the winning side, and drove them into flight. The side to which they brought aid and victory proved to be that of Sultan Alaeddin of Konia. In return for this providential aid, Sultan Alaeddin made a grant of territory to Ertoghrul to be held as a fief under the Seljuks. It consisted of a district at Sugut, about sixty miles south-east of Brusa, and a part of the mountain range to the west of it.

Ertoghrul and his horsemen were a welcome support to Alaeddin's waning fortunes. In a later encounter with a small Byzantine force they came off victorious, and Alaeddin made a further addition to their territory on the borders of his own, over which he had a very nominal sovereignty. Thenceforth Ertoghrul lived an uneventful pastoral life as the head of his clan or tribe of Turks in the ceded territory, till his death in 1288, nearly fifty years from the date of his leaving Khorassan. His son, Othman, who was born at Sugut in 1258, was chosen by the clan to succeed him, and soon commenced a much more ambitious career than that of his father. When of the age of only sixteen he had fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of Sheik Idebali, a holy man of great repute in Karamania. It is evidence of the small account then held of Ertoghrul and his son that the Sheik did not think the marriage good enough for his daughter. It was only after a long and patient wooing by Othman, and as the result of a dream, which foretold a great future of empire for his progeny, that Idebali gave consent to the marriage.

There were no contemporary Turkish histories of the early Ottoman Sultans. It was not till many years after the capture of Constantinople in 1453 that Turkish historians wrote about the birth of their State. They had to rely upon traditions, which must be accepted with much reserve. This, however, is certain, that Othman, in his thirty-eight years of leadership, increased his dominion from its very narrow limits at Sugut and Eski-Sheir to a territory extending thence northward to the Bosphorus and Black Sea, a distance of about a hundred and twenty miles by an average breadth of sixty miles, an area of about seven thousand square miles. There are no means of estimating its population. It was probably sparse, except on the coast of the Marmora and Black Sea. It included only one important city, Brusa, which was surrendered by its garrison and citizens shortly before the death of Othman in 1326, after being hemmed in and cut off from communication with Constantinople for many years. Considerable as these additions were, the nascent State could not even yet be considered as important in size. It was exceeded by several of the larger Turkish Emirates in Asia Minor, such as Karamania, Sarukhan, and others.

It is notable that Othman, from the outset of his career, devoted his efforts, not against the Turkish Moslem States lying to the south and west of him, but against the territory to the north in possession of the Byzantine Empire, or which had recently been more or less emancipated from it, and inhabited chiefly by Christians. It is to be inferred from this that the motive of Othman was partly a religious one, to extend Islam. This was not effected by any signal victories over the armies of the Greek Empire. There was only one recorded battle against any army of the Emperor, that at Baph?on, near Nicomedia, where Othman, who by this time reckoned four thousand horsemen among his followers, defeated the inconsiderable body of two thousand Byzantine troops. In the following year, 1302, the Greek Emperor, Michael Pal?ologus, alarmed at the progress of Othman, crossed in person into Asia Minor at the head of a small army of mercenary

Slavs. But he brought no money with him to pay his soldiers. They would not fight without pay. They dispersed, and Michael was obliged to return to his capital. This was his last attempt to defend his remaining territory in that district. He was hard pressed in other directions by other Turkish Emirs in Asia Minor, and in the first decade of the fourteenth century the Greek Empire lost all its possessions in the islands of the ?gean Sea.

The extensions of territory by Othman, during his long reign of thirty-eight years, were effected by a slow process of attrition, by capturing from time to time petty fortresses and castles and annexing the districts round them. He acted in this respect, in the earlier stages, as fief of the Seljuk State; but later, when that Empire came to an end, Othman declared his independence, and thenceforth his accretions of territory were on his own behalf. It would seem that, as these additions were made, their populations, or the greater part of them who were Christians, adopted Islam, not under compulsion-for there is no record of the massacre of captives or of the sale of them as slaves -but because they were abandoned by their natural protectors, the Greeks of Constantinople. The important fact, clearly shown by Mr. Gibbons in his recent work, is that the new State thus created by Othman did not consist purely of Turks. It had a very large mixture of Greeks and Slavs, who were welded with Turks by the religion of Islam. They were, from an early period, very distinct from the people of other Turkish States. They called themselves Osmanlis. The term 'Turk' was used by them rather as a term of contempt for an inferior people, as compared with themselves. It was only in later years, when the other Turkish States of Asia Minor were incorporated in the Empire, that the term 'Turk' was applied to its people, in the first instance by outsiders, and eventually by themselves.

To Othman, therefore, is due the credit of this inception of a new State and a new and distinct people. He did not, however, assume the title of Sultan. He was simply an Emir, like so many other rulers of petty States in Asia Minor. He was not a great general. He had no opportunity of conducting a great campaign. He was a brave soldier and a sagacious leader, who inspired confidence and trust in his followers and subjects. He pursued with great persistency the policy of enlarging his domain. He was also a wise and capable administrator, and was assisted in this by his father-in-law, Idebali, who acted as his Vizier. He meted out equal justice to all his subjects, irrespective of race and religion. He was simple and unostentatious in his habits. There is no record of his having more than one wife or more than two sons. He did not amass wealth. He divided the loot of war equally among his soldiers, setting apart a portion for the poor and orphans.

Othman had a vein of cruelty in his character, as had so many of his descendants, the Ottoman Sultans. When, on one occasion, he propounded to his war council a scheme of further aggression on his neighbours, his uncle, Dundar, a nonagenarian, who had been companion in arms to Ertoghrul, ventured to raise objection to the policy of further extension. Othman, instead of arguing the question with him, took up his cross-bow and shot his uncle dead on the spot, and in this way closured the discussion and put down, at the outset, opposition in the council.

Von Hammer, in relating this story, says:-

This murder of the uncle marks with terror the commencement of the Ottoman dominion, as the brother's murder did that of Rome, only the former rests on better historical evidence. Idris (the Turkish historian), who, at the beginning of his work, declares that, passing over in silence all that is reprehensible, he will only hand down to posterity the glorious deeds of the royal race of Othman, relates, among the latter, the murder of Dundar. If then such a murderous slaughter of a relative be reckoned by the panegyrists of the Osmanlis among their praiseworthy acts, what are we to think of those which cannot be praised and of which their history therefore is silent?1

We must judge of Othman, however, not by the standard of the present time, but by that of his contemporaries. By that standard he was reckoned a humane and merciful sovereign. This view is expressed in the prayer which has been used in the religious ceremony, on the accession of every one of his successors to the throne, when he is girt with the double-edged sword of the founder of the Empire, "May he be as good as Othman."

In his old age, when Othman was incapable of taking the field himself, his son, Orchan, took his place as the leader of the army, and just before the death of Othman, Brusa surrendered to him. It was then, as now, one of the most important cities in Asia Minor.

When Othman was on his deathbed, after a reign of thirty-eight years, his son Orchan, in terms of affection and lamentation, addressed him: "Oh, Othman! Thou fountain of Emperors, Lord of the World, Thou conqueror and subduer of Nations." The dying king replied:-

Lament not, oh my sons: delight! for this my last conflict is the lot of all human kind, common to young and old, who equally breathe the air of this malignant world. Whilst I now pass to immortality, live thou glorious, prosperous, and happy. Since I have thee for successor, I have no cause to grieve at my departure. I will give thee my last instructions, to which be attentive. Bury the cares of life in oblivion. I conjure thee, crowned with felicity, lean not to tyranny, nor so much as look towards cruelty. On the contrary, cultivate justice and thereby embellish the earth. Rejoice my departed soul with a beautiful series of victories, and when thou art become conqueror of the world, propagate religion by thy arms. Promote the learned to honour, so the divine law shall be established, and in what place soever thou hearest a learned man, let honour, magnificence, and clemency attend him. Glory not in thy armies, nor pride thyself in thy riches. Keep near thy person the learned in the law, and, as justice is the support of kingdoms, turn from everything repugnant thereto. The Divine law is our sole arm, and our progress is only in the paths of the Lord. Embark not in vain undertakings or fruitless contentions. For it is not our ambition to enjoy the empire of the world, but the propagation of the faith was my peculiar desire, which therefore it becomes thee to accomplish. Study to be impartially gracious to all, and take care to discharge the public duties of thy office, for a king not distinguished by goodness belies the name of a king. Let the protection of thy subjects be thy constant study, so shalt thou find favour and protection from God.2

It is probable that much of this was the invention of some historian, writing many years later. It may be taken, however, as a summary, based on tradition, of the principles which had actuated the dying chief during his long reign.

Othman died shortly after receiving the welcome news of the surrender of Brusa, and by his last wish was buried there. He was the progenitor of a royal race who, for nine more generations, continued the career of conquest which he inaugurated, till the Empire, in the middle of the sixteenth century, two hundred and seventy-eight years from the accession of Othman, under Solyman the Magnificent, the greatest of his race, reached its zenith. It was only after ten generations of great Sultans that the race seemed to be exhausted, and thenceforth, with rare exceptions, produced none but degenerates down to the present time.

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