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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

The policies of Byzantium in the fourteenth century


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Page 2

Although some private settlements of the Turks in Europe, namely in Thrace and the Thracian (Callipoli) peninsula, had existed, in all likelihood, from the first years of the reign of Cantacuzene, they did not seem dangerous, for they were, of course, under Byzantine authority. But at the beginning of the fifties, a small stronghold near Callipolis (Callipoli), Zympa, fell into the hands of the Turks. Cantacuzene's attempt to bribe the Turks to evacuate Zympa failed.

In 1354 almost the whole southern coast of Thrace was struck by a terrible earthquake, which destroyed many cities and fortresses. The Turks fortified Zympa, and seized several cities in the peninsula which were abandoned by the population after the earthquake, among them Callipolis. There they constructed walls, erected strong fortifications and an arsenal, and set a large garrison, so that Callipolis became an extremely important strategic center and a base of support for their further advance in the Balkan peninsula. The people of Constantinople immediately realized their danger, and the news of the capture of Callipolis by the Turks threw them into despair. A prominent writer of the epoch, Demetrius Cydones, testified that clamors and lamentations resounded all over the whole city. What speeches, he wrote, were more heard then in the city? Have we not perished? Are not all of us within the walls (of the city) caught as if in the net of the barbarians? Is he not happy who, before these dangers, has left the city? In order to escape slavery all were hastening to Italy, Spain, and even farther towards the sea beyond the Pillars, that is to say, beyond the Pillars of Hercules (present day Straits of Gibraltar), perhaps to England. Of these events a Russian chronicler remarked, In the year 6854 (ab. 1346) the Ismailites (i.e., the Turks) crossed on this side, into the Greek land. In the year 6865 (ab. 1357) they took Callipolis from the Greeks.

At that time the Venetian representative at Constantinople notified his government of the danger from the Turks, their possible capture of the remnants of the Empire, the general discontent in Byzantium, with the Emperor and government, and finally, the desire of the majority of the population to be under the power of the Latins, particularly of Venice. In another report the same official wrote that the Greeks of Constantinople, wishing to be protected against the Turks, desired first of all, the domination of Venice, or, if that was impossible, that of the King of Hungary or Serbia. To what extent the point of view of the Venetian representative reflected the real spirit in Constantinople is difficult to say.

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