The Ottoman Turks
first appeared in history in 1227 as a group of several thousand persons
fleeing from Central Asia before the advance of Mongol invaders. Just
226 years later an Ottoman army--90,000 warriors--stood at the gates
of Constantinople, capital of Byzantium, the successor to the legendary
Roman Empire. The transformation of the Ottoman Turks from a refugee
horde to a mighty military force was a testament to the remarkable leadership
of the Ottomans in that period and to their highly effective governance
For decades the
advance of Ottoman strength and the enlargement of its territory had
seemed inexorable to the Byzantines and to other interested observers
such as the Venetians. In 1438 John VIII Palaeologus, the Byzantine
emperor, with a huge entourage had made a personal visit to Venice and
elsewhere in Italy in a desperate effort to assemble allies against
the Ottomans. Much was said and little was achieved.
In fact, the Venetians
had succeeded better than most western powers at establishing and maintaining--subject
to intermittent interruptions--important trading relationships with
the Ottomans as Ottoman power and territory grew. Nonetheless, in early
1453 as the Ottoman siege on Constantinople tightened, only the Venetians
attempted to provide any substantial military assistance to the Byzantines.
All defense was
futile, however. The city fell on May 29, 1453. Henceforth, all Venetian
outposts in the eastern Mediterranean were at risk.
For Europe as
a whole, the great unanswered question was: how far west would the Ottoman
expansion ultimately reach? By 1529 the Ottoman army was at the gates
of Vienna, the geographic center of Europe. That unsuccessful siege
was repeated in 1681, provoking at last a unified response from the
major powers of Western Europe. The Ottoman advance into Europe had
been stemmed at last.