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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

Manuel II (1391-1425) and the Turks


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The crusade of Sigismund of Hungary and the Battle of Nicopolis. Meanwhile, the successes of the Turks in the Balkan peninsula again raised the question of immediate danger to western Europe. The subjugation of Bulgaria and the nearly complete conquest of Serbia had led the Turks to the borders of the Kingdom of Hungary. The king of Hungary, Sigismund, feeling complete impotence against the threatening Turkish danger with only his own forces, appealed to the European rulers for help. France answered the appeal with the greatest enthusiasm. In obedience to the voice of his people, the king of France sent a small body of troops, the duke of Burgundy at their head. Poland, England, Germany, and some smaller states also sent troops. Venice, joined the campaign. Just before Sigismund's crusade started, Manuel seems to have formed a league with the Genoese of the Aegean islands, namely Lesbos and Chios, and with the Knights of Rhodes, in other words, with the Christian outposts in the Aegean Sea. As for Manuel's relation to Sigismund's crusade, perhaps he pledged himself to share in the expenses of the campaign. The crusading enterprise ended in complete failure.

In 1396, the crusaders were crushed by the Turks in the battle of Nicopolis (on the right shore of the lower Danube) and compelled to return to their homes. Sigismund, who had barely escaped capture, sailed in a small vessel by way of the mouth of the Danube and the Black Sea to Constantinople, whence, by a roundabout way through the Archipelago and the Adriatic Sea, he returned to Hungary. A participator in the battle of Nicopolis, the Bavarian soldier Schiltberger, who had been taken prisoner by the Turks, and spent some time at Callipolis, described as an eyewitness Sigismund's passage through the Dardanelles which the Turks could not prevent. According to his statement, the Turks put all their Christian captives in line along the shore of the straits and mockingly shouted to Sigismund to leave his vessel and free his people.

After the defeat of the western crusaders at Nicopolis, the victorious Bayazid, planning to strike a final blow to Constantinople, decided to ruin the few regions that still belonged, though almost nominally, to the Empire, from which the besieged capital could get some help. He devastated Thessaly, which submitted to him, and, according to Turkish sources, even seized Athens for a short time; his best generals inflicted terrible destruction on Morea, where Manuel's brother was ruling under the title of Despot.

Meanwhile, popular dissatisfaction was growing in the capital; the tired and exhausted populace were murmuring, accusing Manuel of their misery, and beginning to turn their eyes to his nephew John, who had in 1390 deposed for some months Manuels old father, John V.

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