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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

John VIII (1425-1448) and the Turkish menace


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But this did not suffice for the struggle with the Ottomans. Like his predecessors, John VIII hoped to receive real help against the Turks from the West, with the cooperation of the pope. For this purpose the Emperor himself with the Greek patriarch and a brilliant retinue sailed for Italy. The result of this journey was the conclusion of the famous Union of Florence. As far as real help to Byzantium was concerned, however, the imperial journey to Italy was of no avail.

Pope Eugenius IV preached a crusade and succeeded in arousing to war against the Turks the Hungarians, Poles, and Roumanians. A crusading army was formed under the command of the king of Poland and Hungary, Vladislav, and the famous Hungarian hero and chief, John Hunyadi. In the battle at Varna, in 1444, the crusaders were crushed by the Turks. Vladislav fell in battle. With the remnants of the army, John Hunyadi retreated to Hungary. The battle of Varna was the last attempt of western Europe to come to the help of perishing Byzantium. Thereafter Constantinople was left to its fate.

Some documents from the archives of Barcelona, comparatively recently published, have revealed the aggressive plans of the famous Maecenas of the epoch of the Renaissance, the king of Aragon, Alfonso V the Magnanimous, who died in 1458. Having reunited Sicily and Naples under his power for a short time in the middle of the fifteenth century, he was planning to carry on a vast aggressive campaign in the East, which was similar to the grandiose plans of Charles of Anjou. Constantinople was one of Alfonso's goals, and the idea of a crusade against the Turks never left him. For a long time he had realized that, if the growing might and insolent prosperity of the Ottomans were not put down, he would have no security for the maritime confines of his realm. But Alfonso's ambitious plans were not realized and the Turks were never seriously menaced by this talented and brilliant humanist and politician.

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