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(OTTOMANS and EMPIRE – continued)

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OTTOMANS and EMPIRE, to 1500 (2 of 3)

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The Ottomans into the Balkans

In January 1366, Pope Urban V declared a Crusade to save Europe from Islam and the Turks. Responding to this, Count Amadeo VI of Savoy (in the northwest of Italy) took a fleet of twenty ships (galleys) to the Dardanelles, overran Gelibolu temporarily, captured some ports on the Black Sea and there laid siege to Varna. The Catholic king of Hungary, Louis I, joined the crusade. Christian rulers from Bosnia and  Serbia joined in a coalition with Louis and began a drive to push the Ottomans back to Asia. The new Ottoman ruler, Murad, sent  the coalition force fleeing back, and this encouraged Murad to expand farther into Christian territory – into the Balkans.

The Balkans were lands that had been ruled by Constantinople. Christians in the Balkans were of the Eastern Orthodox faith. As in Constantinople, in the Balkans fear of domination by Catholics was prevalent. Local clergy and populations were unenthusiastic about help from the Catholics. And some local rulers accepted military help from the West in exchange for a promise to recognize the supremacy of Catholicism.

Among the Serbs in the Balkans various noblemen or princes had been competing with each other for power. There had been wars among the Serbs in the 1360s. In 1371 the Ottomans defeated a Serb and Hungarian force on the Maritsa River in Bulgaria, a little northwest of Edirne, a battle known to modern Turks as the "Rout of the Serbs." Christians continued fighting Christians. Some lords sought protection by allying themselves with the Turks, agreeing to vassalage. In 1372 the Bulgar tsar of Tirnova, John Sisman, also swore homage to the Ottoman sultan and sent to Murad his daughter as a bride.

By 1373, Murad had conquered most of Macedonia. In 1375 Serbia's despotic ruler began paying the Ottomans tribute in money and in young men drafted for service with the Ottomans. The exact nature of this service is not easily ascertained. Murad took the Macedonian city of Monastir (Bitola), the Serbian town of Naisus (Nis) and the Bulgarian town of Sofia. In 1387 in Asia Minor, Murad had defeated a coalition of princes, at the battle of Konia, and had extended Ottoman rule there. And in 1389 he and his army crushed another collection of Balkan nobles at Kosovo. This was 34 years after the Serbian empire of Tsar Dusan had disintegrated. It was 18 years after the battle on the River Maritsa.

Following the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, a Serbian power survived in the area. Queen Milica, the widowed mother of the fourteen or fifteen year-old prince Stefan Lazarevic, protected herself from the aggressions of Sigismund of Hungary by bargaining with the Turks, gaining their protection in exchange for vassalage.

According to Serb folklore the Battle of Kosovo destroyed the great medieval Serbian empire and Serbs were immediately placed under Turkish rule. At Kosovo a Serb patriot is said to have assassinated Murad – but to no avail as Murad's son took power. The story of the Serb patriot would be an inspiration for Serb youths in 1914 in their plan to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary.

Tensions existed between local rulers and their subjects. The Ottoman Turks were known to give the Orthodox Christian clergy freedom to lead their flock. The Turks were known to declare land that had belonged to feudal lords as publicly owned, to free peasants from the dues they had had to pay to these lords, and to free peasants from forced labor (the corvée) for the lords. The Turks were giving peasants an autonomy that they thought would create a more easily paid tax that would create revenue for them (called the plow tax). In the Balkans, fear of rule by Catholics and dislike of feudal oppression was making it easier for the Ottoman Turks to conquer there.

Rather than imposing an utterly alien system upon peoples of the Balkans, the Ottomans maintained many of the features of local culture – much as conquerors had done for more than two thousand years. There was not at this time in the Balkans the national identity that would develop centuries later.

Meanwhile, ethnic Albanians with Serb orthodox names were in Kosovo. But most of the towns and villages had Serb, not Albanian, names, suggesting that Albanians in Kosovo were a minority.

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