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THE GLORY OF CHRISTENDOM


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became apparent. Public spirit had faded to a shadow; most of the empire's people would not fight, requiring
the constant use of mercenaries; the taxation base was almost gone, with most of the fertile land locked up in a
few large estates whose owners were often too strong to be forced to pay; and most of the commerce was in the
hands of Italian aliens. Young, energetic and ambitious Slavic peoples in the Balkans pressed on the empire's
northern borders; Greece was full of revolt, even to anarchy in some areas; and in the east, a flotsam of new
peoples who had flowed west in the wake of the Mongols were settling down in nearby Asia Minor, past the
longitude of Constantinople and the Bosporus. Most of them were Turks from central Asia; many do not seem
even to have accepted Islam until they made their home in western Asia Minor. But then they did, and were
filled with the zeal of recent converts. Among them was a small body of approximately 400 fighting men with
their wives and children, given unity only by their common loyalty to a chief named Osman, son of Ertoghrul,
and therefore called Osmanlis or Ottomans. 62
During the last decade of the thirteenth century Osman and his men began winning battles and capturing
castles, though still confined to a small area around the upper reaches of the Kara Su River. Their numbers
grew tenfold, from 400 to 4,000. They repeatedly raided Byzantine territory, defeating a Byzantine army of
about 2,000 near the ancient Greek city of Nicomedia in 1302. Gradually, over the ensuing years, they closed
in on Nicomedia and the nearby, equally ancient Greek metropolis of Nicaea. Both cities were defended by
immense walls, impregnable to the Osmanlis who still relied entirely on swords, arrows and their splendid
horses. But in 1326, as Osman lay dying, his son Orkhan brought him news that the smaller but important
Greek city of Brusa had been taken by his people. It was a foretaste of things to come, the beginning of the
Ottoman empire 63
A long and ugly struggle for the succession in Constantinople between Emperor Andronicus II and his
grandson and namesake Andronicus III finally ended in 1328-two years after the Osmanlis took Brusa-with the
expulsion of the elder Andronicus. But the new Emperor was pleasure-loving and ineffective as a leader, and in
June 1329, just a little more than a year into his reign, the Osmanli Turks badly defeated his army at the Battle
of Pelekanon, driving him in ignominious flight, wounded and bleeding, from the field. This led in less than
two years to the fall of Nicaea to the Osmanlis, in March 1331. The city where the epochal council had been
held that marked the emergence of the Church as the leading institution in Western civilization, had now fallen
Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453 (New York, 1972), pp. 114-156; Herbert A
Gibbons, The Foundations of the Ottoman Empire (London, 1916), pp. 13-29.
63
Gibbons, Foundations of the Ottoman Empire, pp. 28-34, 46-48; Nicol, Last Centuries of Byzantium, pp. 153-
154.
to Muslims. The Osmanlis allowed all Christians who wished to leave the city to go freely. For all its splendid
Christian history, and the fact that it had been the capital of the Byzantine Empire during the 57 years that
Constantinople was in the hands of the Latins, Nicaea's remaining Christian inhabitants soon began to give up
their faith en masse, despite the anguished protests of the Patriarch of Constantinople in two burning letters to
them in 1339 and 1340.6°
The whole of western Asia Minor was in upheaval. Many of its people had been uprooted; many ancient
cities had been abandoned. The conquering Muslims had seized all valuable property belonging to Christians
and held them subservient. Only by conversion to Islam, or by pretending it, did these people have a chance to
preserve their property and often their livelihood. Many were not strong enough to resist the temptation, or
salved their consciences by regarding their conformity to Islam as only external and temporary. But the
Ottoman dominion was to last for nearly six hundred years, and the loss of faith soon became permanent. The
abandonment of native Christianity in Asia Minor was not to end until it was totally eliminated-one of the
grimmest events in history for the Christian, especially when he remembers that these were the lands
evangelized by St. Paul."
Six years later it was Nicomedia's turn. Feeble efforts by Andronicus III to form a league with Italian
cities, France, and the Knights of St. John at Rhodes against the Turks in general proved mostly fruitless,
though League forces did win a naval victory in the Gulf of Adramyttium, and in August 1333 Andronicus
agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Osmanlis. The city that had once been the imperial capital of the Eastern
Roman Empire went the way of Nicaea. It became, and has remained a Turkish town. 66
Andronicus III died quite young in 1341, leaving a nine-year-old son. Civil war soon broke out between
John Cantacuzene, an able general acting as regent, and the boy's mother teamed with the ambitious minister
Alexios Apokaukos. The conflict devastated the already weakened Byzantine Empire. John Cantacuzene finally
emerged victorious after Apokaukos decided to inspect a prison and was brained with a block of wood when he
entered an exercise yard filled with men he had confined there. But by that time John Cantacuzene could not
stop the Serb chieftain Stephen Dushan from proclaiming himself an Emperor, nor avoid marrying his daughter
to Orkhan the Osmanli, fervent Muslim though he was. In the same spring of 1346 when these two evident
manifestations of Byzantine decline took place, the eastern

Nicol, Last Centuries of Byzantium, pp. 168-169, 174-176; Gibbons, Foundations of the Ottoman Empire, pp. 59-
63, 76-81.
65 Joseph Gill, Byzantium and the Papacy, 1198-1400 (New Brunswick NJ, 1979), p. 223.
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Nicol, Last Centuries of Byzantium, pp. 175, 178; Gibbons, Foundations of the Ottoman Empire, pp. 63-64; Gill,
Byzantium and the Papacy, pp. 195-196.