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27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The territory of Moldavia was a part of the Halych-Volhynian Kingdom before it was conquered by the Mongols and incorporated into the Golden Horde in the 13th century. Moldavia was captured by Hungary in 1352/1353 and organized as a frontier march but Moldavians under leadership of Bogdan I (1359-1365) gained independence from Hungary already in 1359. Moldavia returned under Hungarian overlordship after Bogdan’s death but it was ruled by its native princes.

Statue of Stephen the Great

Stephen the Great

Moldavia became a Polish vassal state after the collapse of the Polish-Hungarian in 1385 but Moldavian princes held almost absolute power. At the same time Moldavia was threatened by the advancing Ottoman forces but Alexander the Good (1400-1432) managed to repulse the Ottoman threat in alliance with Poland. Moldavia reached its zenith under Stephen the Great (1457-1504) who successfully withstood all Hungarian, Polish and Ottoman attacks but the Ottomans conquered Moldavia after Stephen’s death and incorporated the country into the Ottoman Empire.


27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Transylvania (Hungarian Erdely and German Siebenburgen) located in today’s Romania northern from the Carpathian Mountains was conquered by the Hungarians about year 900. A short period of independence at the beginning of the 11th century was followed by incorporation of Transylvania into the Kingdom of Hungary as an autonomous vassal duchy ruled by a prince or voivod responsible to the Hungarian King. Transylvania was settled by the German Saxons who were invited by the Hungarian King Geza II in the 12th and 13th century. The Saxons, the Szeklers (a Hungarian-speaking community of unknown origin) and Hungarian nobility formed the Union of the Three Nations as a ruling social class in Transylvania. The Romanian population mostly belonged to the class of serfs and was excluded from the political life.

A portrait of John Hunyadi

John Hunyadi

Like the Balkan Peninsula, Transylvania was faced with the Ottoman threat at the end of the 14th century. The leader of the resistance against the Ottomans became John Hunyadi who was rewarded with the captaincy of the fortress of Belgrade and the governorship (voivodship) of Transylvania in 1440 for his support to the candidacy of Ladislaus III of Poland to the Hungarian throne. He decisively defeated the Ottoman forces at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 and repulsed the Ottoman threat to southern Hungary for the next seven decades. John Hunyadi died of plague three weeks after the lifting of the Siege of Belgrade, while his younger son Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490) succeeded Ladislaus the Posthumous as King of Hungary in 1458.

Invasions and Conquests in the Late Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Southeastern Europe and Byzantine Empire were faced with the Ottoman invasions at the same time when the Western Europe witnessed the rise of centralized nation-states and entered the Age of Discovery or Age of Exploration. The Byzantine Empire greatly weakened after the Fall of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 was slowly falling into the Ottoman hands. The Ottomans captured Gallipoli in 1354 and Byzantine Emperor was forced to pay tribute to the Ottoman Sultan from 1399 onwards. The Ottoman forces invaded Southeastern Europe in the middle of the 14th century and defeated the coalition of Serb lords in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Despite a major victory the Ottoman army withdrew but few decades later Serbia became an Ottoman vassal state.

When Bulgaria was made an Ottoman vassal state in 1393 the Turks had an open way to Hungary which failed to organize a crusade against the Ottomans. The Ottoman territorial expansion and conquests in Europe were halted by the invasion of the Mongols under Timur but after Timur’s death in 1405 the Ottoman expansion continued. Mehmed II the Conqueror (1451-81) captured Constantinople (1453) and conquered Morea (1460), Serbia (1459), Bosnia (1463) and Albania (1467), while Wallachia and the Crimean Khanate were forced to pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire. The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 attracted attention of all Europe. Combined Western European forces defeated the Ottomans at Belgrade in 1456 and halted the Ottoman advance towards Catholic Europe for seven decades. However, all attempts to destroy the Ottoman Empire failed.

Political Changes in the Late Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Late Middle Ages went through major political changes which were marked by the rise of strong and royalty-based nation-states: England, France and the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. The mentioned states saw the rise of centralized royal government which depended on collaboration or subjugation of the estates of the realm consisting of nobility, clergy and commoners (the Parliament in England, the General Estates in France and the Cortes in the Christian Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula).

The most notable events of the Late Middle Ages were the Ottoman expansion which resulted in the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the Hundred Years’ War fought between France and England from 1337 to 1453. The Hundred Years’ War delayed the progress and prosperity in both England and France but it strengthened royal authority in both kingdoms and greatly influenced the development of modern nation-states. The war ended favorable for France which afterwards finally established strong central government and completed the unification of France by incorporating the Duchy of Burgundy, Provence with Marseille and the Duchy of Brittany.

The defeat in the Hundred Years’ War ended the English aspirations on the Continental Europe, while the English occupation with war against France enabled Ireland to develop virtual independence under English overlordship. After the victory of Robert the Bruce over the English forces in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 England temporarily lost Scotland which afterwards developed into a strong state under Stuarts, while the Welsh Revolt in 1400 resulted in the semi-independence of Wales. Almost immediately after the end of the Hundred Years’ War broke out a civil war over the English throne between the adherents of the House of Lancaster and the House of York known as the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485). However, the Wars of the Roses which ended with the accession of Henry VII to the English throne resulted in the establishment of a strong, central royal government.

Iberian Peninsula saw the unification of the most powerful Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula – Aragon and Castile which was achieved through marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon with Isabella of Castile in 1469. Unified Aragon and Castile continued the war against the Moors and by capturing Granada in 1492 finally ended the Moorish rule in the Iberian Peninsula and completed the Reconquista.

The three Scandinavian kingdoms – Denmark, Norway (with Iceland and Greenland) and Sweden were united under Queen Margaret I of Denmark in the Kalmar Union in 1397. The Kalmar Union unified the Scandinavian countries theoretically as equal but Denmark as the strongest state was dominating the union. The election of Gustav Vasa as King of Sweden in 1523 resulted in the collapse of the Kalmar Union although it was never formally dissolved.

In contrary to England and France, the political changes in Germany caused further decentralization of the central government. Numerous petty states emerged after the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire often ruled by nobles who claimed to be independent rulers, while the office of the Holy Roman Emperor was elective. The Holy Roman Emperors during the period of the Late Middle Ages were either elected from the House of Habsburg or the House of Luxembourg. Like Germany, Italy was not a nation-state in any aspect. The Italian peninsula was dominated by the cities-states (Florence, Milan, Venice, Genoa) competing with each other for supremacy.

Major political changes also occurred in Eastern Europe which saw the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, a predecessor of the Russian national state and the rise of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. However, the greatest changes probably occurred in Southeastern Europe which was invaded by the Ottomans who finally destroyed the Byzantine Empire and made the Slavic kingdoms of the Balkan Peninsula their vassal states.

Invasions and Conquests in the High Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Viking and Hungarian invasions in Western Europe ceased by the beginning of the High Middle Ages, while the Muslim rule in Sicily and Southern Italy collapsed. However, at the same time Europe saw the invasions of the Normans (descendants of the Vikings who settled in today’s Normandy in northern France in 911), Mongols and Ottomans.

The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy mostly took place during the 11th century, while the Norman Conquest of England began with the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066. In 1169, the Normans invaded Ireland and at the same time subdued Wales and Scotland and replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class. Eventually the Normans began to identify themselves as Anglo-Normans but during the Hundred Years’ War they already identified themselves as English. In 1130, after capturing Sicily and Southern Italy from the Saracens Roger II of Sicily established the Kingdom of Sicily which besides Sicily encompassed the whole Mezzogiorno region of Southern Italy and until 1530 the islands of Malta and Gozo. However, the Normans held Kingdom of Sicily only until 1194 when it passed to the Hohenstaufens through marriage.

The Mongol Invasion in the early 13th century had the greatest impact on Eastern Europe where Kievan Rus was at the time at its height. The Mongol forces decisively defeated the Kievan army in the Battle at Kalka River in 1223 and invaded the Kievan Rus in 1237-40 which afterwards ceased to exist. The Mongol Invasions also greatly affected Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Serbia. However, the Mongol Invasions in the mentioned countries ceased after year 1241 when Batu Khan returned to the Mongolian Empire because of the death of the Great Khan, Ogedei Khan despite being victorious against King Bela IV of Hungary in the Battle of Mohi.

The expansion of the Ottomans who were a major threat to the weakened Byzantine Empire started at end of the High Middle Ages. The founder of the Ottoman Dynasty, Osman I extended the Ottoman territory to the Byzantine frontiers and captured the Byzantine city Bilecik in 1299. The city of Bilecik was the first of many Byzantine cities and villages captured by the Ottomans in the Late Middle Ages and marked the beginning of the rise of the Ottoman Empire which extended its power over the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The period of the High Middle Ages also saw the first European conquests and expansion out of Europe. The Crusades resulted in the establishment of the Crusader states in Syria and Palestine, while the Vikings settled in Iceland, Greenland and even reached North America.

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