1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > Period of Greek Survival: from the taking of Constantinople by the Latins to its Conquest by the Turks, 1204-1453 A.D.

(Part 14)



V: Period of Greek Survival: from the taking of Constantinople by the Latins to its Conquest by the Turks, 1204-1453 A.D.

The empire of the East never recovered from the effects Partition oE the fourth crusade. It was then broken into a number of the of separate fragments, and though some of these recovered emPue-their cohesion, and the end did not arrive for two centuries and a half, yet the strength of the system was gone, and paralysis crept more and more over the enfeebled frame. In accordance with the provisions of the partition treaty, a Latin emperor was set up at Constantinople, and Baldwin, count of Flanders, was elected to the office ; Latin kingdoms were established in different provinces,—one at Thessalonica, which was of short duration, another at Athens under the family of De la Roche, and a third in the Pelo-ponnesus under Champlitte and Villehardouin, which was called the principality of Achaia or the Morea. Of the occupation of the last-named of these countries an account is given in one of the most curious of mediaeval Greek poems, The Book of the Conquest, the French original of which also exists. But even the districts which remained in the hands of the Greeks did not continue united. An independent empire was established at Trebizond on the Black Sea by a scion of the house of Comnenus. Another principality was founded in Epirus, the despot of which, after overthrowing the Latin state of Thessalonica, estab-lished at that place an empire of his own. But the head- Empire quarters of the legitimate Greek monarchy were at Nicaea, of Nicasa. the original capital of the Seljuk sultans in Asia Minor. Theodore Lascaris, a man of no mean ability, who had been acknowledged as emperor before the capture of Constanti-nople, having taken up his abode in that place, succeeded in maintaining himself in opposition to the crusaders, the Seljuks of Iconium, and the Greeks of Trebizond; and his

successors continued to reside there for nearly sixty years. When the difficulties of the Westerns in Constantinople became increasingly greater, and their downfall appeared imminent, it was for a time a question whether that city should become the prize of the emperor of Nicaea, or of the emperor of Thessalonica, or of the Bulgaro-Wallachian sovereign; and this rivalry involved many alliances and wars. The man who ultimately decided it in favour of Nicaea was Michael Palseologus, who became the founder of the last dynasty that ruled the Greek empire (1261).
The The character of Michael, which was too faithfully re-Palaio- fleeted by many of his successors, represented most of the logi" unfavourable qualities of the Greek race. Though a brave soldier, he was intriguiug, selfish, and unscrupulous, as he soon showed by the deposition and blinding of the young emperor, whose guardian and colleague he was appointed to be. He entered on the possession of a ruined capital, which the barbarism of the Western nobles had reduced to a state of poverty and filth, and his attempts to restore it were misdirected and unsuccessful. His one object, when he had established himself on the throne, was to maintain his despotism ; and while he recovered part of the Pelo-ponnesus to the empire, he ruined his subjects financially by debasing the coinage, and commercially by allowing the Genoese and Venetians to appropriate most of the carrying trade of the Greeks. But the act by which he gave the deepest offence was the reunion of the Eastern and Western Churches, which amounted to the submission of the Greek Church to the pope, to which he consented at the council of Lyons (1274), in order to persuade Gregory X. to pro-hibit Charles of Anjou from invading the empire. The narrowness of the theological spirit among the Greeks at this period was greater than we can well conceive, but it was a not unnatural outburst of national feeling which roused the people in opposition to this measure. The sub-sequent attempt in the same direction at the councils of Florence and Ferrara (1438-9), when the nation was reduced to the direst straits, met with no better reception at home. Under the successors of Michael the empire con-tinued for 170 years, but the whole of this time was a long death sickness. The doom of the empire was forecast by the powers that came to prey on its weakness—the Cata-lans, who plundered those whom they had undertaken to aid ; the knights of St John, who seized Rhodes, a con-quest which they rendered memorable by their gallant de-fence of that island against the Mahometans; and the Ser-vians, who, under Stephen Dushan, established an important empire, which lasted until it was destroyed by Sultan Amurath at the great battle of Cossova (1389). Even the emperors themselves, from the endowments and gifts which they lavishly bestowed on monasteries, especially those of Athos, seemed to be providing beforehand for a day when their possessions would pass into the hands of others.

The The nation was now arriving at the maturity which was to Otto- bring this time-worn empire to an end. Shortly before the mans. Qree)jS regained possession of Constantinople, the Mongols, whose vast hordes had overrun a great part of Europe and Asia and had destroyed the caliphate of Baghdad, entered Anatolia, and shattered the power of the -Seljuks of Iconium. But on the ruins of this dynasty another and far more terrible dominion arose. Towards the end of the 13th century Othman, the chief of a Turkish tribe in north-ern Phrygia, penetrated through the passes of Mount Olympus, which the jealous policy of Michael Palseologus had denuded of the protection of the warlike mountaineers who occupied them, and descended into the lowlands of Bithynia. By his son, Orchan, the city of Broussa was captured, which became thenceforth the capital of the
Ottoman race. The extraordinarily rapid rise of this people to be one of the greatest powers that the world has seen was due in great measure to the remarkable ability of its successive rulers, but in no slight degree also to the in-stitution of the Janissaries—an inhuman but most efficient system, by which Christian children were torn from their homes and educated as Mahometans in the household of the sultans, to whose personal service, as a bodyguard, they were for life devoted. As early as the year 1346 we find Cantacuzene, then the prime minister of John V., and afterwards himself emperor, entering into alliance with Orchan, and giving him his daughter in marriage. The first step towards a permanent settlement of the Turks in Europe was made in 1354, when Gallipoli was occupied by Orchan's son, Suleiman. Seven years from this time Amurath I, made himself master of Adrianople, and before his death that sultan saw the Greek emperor his vassal and tributary. It seemed now as if the fall of Constantinople could not long be delayed, when, with one of those turns of the wheel of fortune which form the surprises of history, Bajazet, the most powerful of all the Ottoman rulers, was defeated and taken prisoner by Timur the Tartar at the battle of Angora (1402), and civil war setting in between his sons gave the Eastern empire a new lease of existence. But within twenty years again the capital was besieged by Amurath II., though he failed to take it, owing partly to the strength of its fortifications, and partly to a rebellion that broke out in his family. The empire was now reduced to Thessalonica, a part of the Peloponnesus, the city of Constantinople, and a few neighbouring towns.
In the midst of the gloom which hangs over this last End of period, it is consoling to find a ray of light that illumines tie em its closing scene, in the heroic end of the last Constantine. Pire-The story is a sad one. The city was beleaguered by land and sea by the warlike hosts of Mahomet II.; no further succour could be expected from the West; and the emperor, who had adopted the Latin rite, was thereby estranged from the great mass of his subjects. But he'had determined not to survive his empire, and he died in a manner worthy of the greatest of his predecessors. On the eve of the final assault he rode round the positions occupied by his troops, to cheer them by his presence; and then, having partaken of the eucharist in St Sophia's after the Latin form, and having solemnly asked pardon of the members of his house-hold for any offences, he proceeded to occupy his station at the great breach. There on the following morning, after a desperate resistance, he fell fighting amidst a heap of slain, and the young sultan passed his lifeless body as he rode into the captured city.
We have thus passed in review the fortunes of the Greeks during a period of nearly eighteen centuries. We have seen how the Roman system of government and the Greek character and social institutions, mutually influencing and modifying one another, produced the characteristic features of the Eastern empire. We have watched that empire maintaining a conflict on the one side with the invading barbarians, the Bulgarians, and the Western nations, on the other with the Persians, the Saracens, and the Turks, until to the last of these peoples it finally succumbed.
The following are the principal histories of this period:—in English, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which, from its comprehensiveness and grasp of the subject, can never be superseded, and Finlay's History of Greece, which is the chief authority on the Byzantine empire ; in French, Le Beau's Histoire du Bas-Empire; in German, Carl Hopf s Geschichte Griechenlands vom Beginn des Mittelalters, published in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopadie, and re-issued in vols. vi. and vii. of Brockhaus's Griechenland (a work of great erudition, which has cleared up many disputed questions), and Hertzberg's Geschichte Griechenlands linter der Herrsehaft der Romer, and Geschichte Griechenlands seit dem Absterben des antiken Lebens Ms zur Gegenwart; in Greek, Paparrhegopoulos's 'ICTopia rod 'EXXI)VIKOV edvovs. (H. F. T.)

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