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The Loss of the S. S. Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons By Lawrence Beesley Characters: 9312

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


On the death of Sultan Bayezid, in captivity, it seemed as though the Ottoman Empire was doomed to extinction. Asia Minor had already passed out of its hands, and was either in possession of the Emirs who had been reinstated in their territories by Timur, and who had sworn allegiance to him, or was still in the occupation of the invading Tartars. It was not to be expected that the Empire in Europe would survive when it could no longer draw support from Asia. The Christian populations of Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Wallachia would soon reassert their independence, and the Greek Empire might be expected to recover some of its lost provinces. The Turkish Empire, however, showed a most unexpected vitality. It survived not only the invasion of Timur, but civil war, which after the death of Bayezid broke out between four of his sons. An interregnum of ten years occurred, during which there was internecine war between these claimants to his throne. The Empire emerged from these stupendous difficulties, under the able rule of the youngest of them, Mahomet I, as strong as ever, and without the loss of a single province.

Timur's hosts, after ravaging the whole of Asia Minor, departed like a swarm of locusts which has denuded a district of its produce and then seeks fresh ground. They returned to Central Asia. They left nothing behind in Asia Minor of Tartar rule, either of an army or of an administration. The field was left open to the Ottomans to fight among themselves and their former vassals and neighbours for such a settlement as could be achieved by the strongest of them.

Of the six sons of Bayezid, five fought with him at Angora in command of divisions of his army. One of them, Mustapha, was supposed to be among the slain; another, Musa, was taken prisoner and shared the captivity of his father. The other three escaped. The eldest of them, Solyman, accompanied by the Grand Vizier, Ali, and Hassan, the Agha of the Janissaries, made his way to Adrianople, where, on the death of Bayezid, he had himself proclaimed Sultan, and exercised power as such over the European provinces of the Empire. Issa, a younger son, fled to Brusa, where he also claimed to be successor to his father, and Mahomet, the youngest son, but by far the ablest, retired to Amasia, a small principality in the north-east of Asia Minor. He there assumed authority over the district. After the death of their father these three claimants for succession to his Empire fought it out between themselves, and, later on, a fourth claimant was added to the list in Musa, who had been set free by Timur, in order that he might convey the dead body of his father for interment at Brusa.

The earliest conflict was between Mahomet and Issa. Mahomet offered to divide between them the Ottoman possessions in Asia. Issa refused and claimed the whole of them. He was defeated and fled to Europe, where he sought the assistance of Solyman, who had firmly established himself in the Ottoman dominions there, and who was now able to lead an army into Asia Minor in support of Issa. Mahomet was hard pressed by Solyman. He sent Musa across the Straits to effect a diversion by raising revolt against Solyman in Europe. This had the desired effect, and Solyman was compelled to return to Adrianople. After his departure Mahomet succeeded in defeating Issa again, and the latter disappeared and was heard of no more.

In Europe, Solyman and Musa were now in deadly conflict. Solyman was much the same type of man as his father-of great vigour and courage in action, but given to orgies of drink and debauchery. The Agha of the Janissaries in vain tried to rouse him from the apathy to which he was often reduced after these bouts. He threatened to shave the Agha's beard with his sword. He was often severe and even cruel to his soldiers, and finally the Janissaries, incensed by his brutal treatment, his dissolute habits, and his inability to rouse himself to action, rebelled against him, at the instance of Hassan, and put him to death. They then took service under Musa, who became master of the position in Europe and assumed the title of Sultan.

After an expedition to Serbia for the purpose of avenging what he considered their treachery to him in supporting Mahomet, and where he committed the most revolting cruelties, Musa returned to Adrianople, and opened a campaign against the Emperor Manuel, who, after the death of Bayezid, had superseded Andronicus on the Greek throne and who supported Mahomet.

The Emperor appealed to Mahomet for assistance. Mahomet, with a Turkish army, supported by the Serbian contingent, crossed the Bosphorus in answer to t

his appeal, and the strange sight was witnessed of a Turkish army, under command of one of the Othman race, defending Constantinople against another Turkish army.

Musa eventually retreated from his lines in front of Constantinople, and was pursued by Mahomet. When, later, the two armies came into close touch on the borders of Serbia, a conflict was avoided by a revolt of Musa's troops. The Agha, Hassan, addressed the Janissaries in the very presence of Musa. "Why," he said to them, "do you hesitate to go over to the ranks of the most just and virtuous of the Othman princes? Why subject yourselves to be outraged by a man who can take care neither of himself nor of others?"

Musa, on hearing this harangue to his troops, rushed at Hassan and slew him. The companion of Hassan struck at Musa with his sword and wounded him in the hand. The troops, when they saw that their general was seriously wounded, were seized with panic. They deserted and went over to Mahomet. Musa fled with three attendants, and, later, his dead body was found in a marsh.

Mahomet was now in undisputed command of the Empire as Sultan. He reigned as such for only eight years. He showed, during that time, infinite skill and patience, as a statesman equally as a general, in restoring, consolidating, and maintaining his Empire. He was ardently desirous of peace. To the representatives of Serbia, Wallachia, and Albania he said: "Forget not to tell your masters that I grant peace to all, and that peace I will accept from all. May God be against the breakers of peace."

He kept on the best of terms with the Greek Emperor, with whom he had made a defensive alliance, and restored to him certain cities on the coast of the Black Sea and in Thessaly. He had frequent causes, however, for the use of his army, and for showing his skill as a general. He compelled the Emirs of Karamania, Kermia, and other principalities in Asia Minor, who had promised allegiance to Timur, to renew their vassalage to the Ottoman Empire. Two or three times the Karamanian prince revolted and endeavoured to assert complete independence. As often Mahomet defeated him, but contented himself with asserting supremacy, and did not insist upon the incorporation of his territory with the Empire. He also defeated an attempt of a Turkish upstart to create an independent State at Smyrna and Aidin. He put down a dangerous revolt of Dervishes and extinguished the sect. He came into conflict at sea with the Republic of Venice, and though he was worsted, and his fleet of galleys was destroyed, he succeeded in making an honourable peace.

As a ruler of his Empire he showed many great qualities. He gained the appellation which is best translated into English as the "Great Gentleman"-and right well he deserved it. He was magnanimous and just. He strictly observed his promises. He knew that his Empire could not be maintained by force alone, but that justice and clemency were necessary. His Christian subjects were everywhere treated with consideration. He would not tolerate cruelty to them. He was a liberal patron of literature, and in his short reign the Ottomans first showed a bent for poetry. It was a blot on his fame that he caused his youngest brother to be deprived of his sight, and that he put to death his nephew, the son of Solyman, lest either of them should dispute the throne with himself or his son after him. His experience of his brothers and the history of his family doubtless convinced him that no member of the Othman race would be content with any position short of the Sultanate. This may not be a moral justification, but it is an explanation which, in view of the ethics of the times, must prevent too severe a judgment. Though Mahomet in his short reign, after attaining full command of the Empire, made no extension of it, he must be regarded practically as one of its founders and as among its most eminent and successful rulers. He owed his success over his brothers to his moral ascendancy and to the great reputation which he achieved with his troops for his high qualities as a ruler even more than to his prowess as a general. The emergence of the Empire from the extreme difficulties into which it fell from the Mongolian invasion must have been due to the fact that the Ottomans at that time were much superior to the Greeks and the other Christian communities in all the qualities which tend to make a stable government.

Mahomet died of apoplexy in 1421 at the early age of forty-seven. He was buried at Brusa in a mausoleum near to the splendid building known as the Green Mosque, which he had himself erected.

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VI

MURAD II

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