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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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Historians usually call John Cantacuzene the sole cause of the first establishment of the Turks in the Balkan peninsula; he called on them for aid during his personal struggle for power with John Palaeologus. The impression was that the whole responsibility for the subsequent barbaric behavior of the Turks in Europe was Cantacuzene's. But, of course, it is not he alone who is responsible for this event, fatal to both Byzantium and Europe. The chief cause lies in the general conditions in Byzantium and the Balkan peninsula, where no serious obstacles could be opposed to the unrestrainable onslaught of the Turks to the west. If Cantacuzene had not called them to Europe, they would have come there in any case. As T. Florinsky said, By their continuous incursions the Turks had paved the way for the conquest of Thrace; the miserable internal conditions of the Greco-Slavonic world had greatly contributed to the success and impunity of their invasions; finally, the political leaders of various states and peoples had not the least idea of the threatening danger from the advancing Muhammedan power; on the contrary, all of them sought to compromise with it for their own narrow, egoistic goals; Cantacuzene was no peculiar exception. Like Cantacuzene, the Venetians and Genoese, these privileged defenders of Christianity against Islam, were at that time occupied with the idea of an alliance with the Turks. The great Tsar of the Serbs and Greeks, Dushan, was also seeking for the same alliance. No one, of course, will absolutely justify Cantacuzene; he cannot be entirely cleared of blame for the unfortunate events which led to the establishment of the Turks in Europe; but we must not forget that he was not the only one. Stephen Dushan would perhaps have brought the Turks into the peninsula, as Cantacuzene had done, if the latter had not anticipated him and prevented him from coming to an agreement with Orkhan.

Having established themselves at Callipolis the Turks, taking advantage of the unceasing internal troubles in Byzantium and the Slavonic states, Bulgaria and Serbia, began to extend their conquests in the Balkan peninsula. Orkhan's successor, Sultan Murad I, captured many fortified places very near Constantinople, took possession of such important centers as Hadrianople and Philippopolis, and advancing to the west, began to menace Thessalonica. The capital of the Turkish state was transferred to Hadrianople. Constantinople was being gradually surrounded by Turkish possessions. The Emperor continued to pay tribute to the sultan.

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