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8-08-2015, 13:35

Mehmed i i and gennadios i i scholarios

There are two common views of the fall of Constantinople. The first is most vividly depicted in a painting presented toQueen Victoria in 1839 by a hero of the War of Independence of modern Greece from the Ottoman Turks, as a history lesson for the young queen (fig. 64). It shows Constantinople on the fateful day: 29 May 1453. Constantine XI had died a martyr; his Latin allies are scuttling away by sea. Christian youths are rounded up in devshirme, to become janissaries who wield curved scimitars. The enthroned Sultan Mehmed II supervises the placing of enormous yokes over the Roman orthodox clergy and lay notables of Constantinople. A distinctly pagan-looking lady, personifying Hellas disarmed, weeps under an olive tree.However, escaping to the highlands of theMorea are young braves in white Albanian kilts, ready to fight another day – which dawned in 1821.25 A second, revisionist, view of the event is in fact older than the schoolroom one. This maintains that, as heir of the Byzantine emperors, the conquering sultan created for his Roman orthodox subjects a self-governing community, or millet, regulated by their patriarch, who now had greater political powers than he had ever enjoyed, especially over the orthodox Slavs, and restored Constantinople as capital of the Roman orthodox world. As late as 1798 Patriarch Anthimos of Jerusalem explained that when the last emperors of Constantinople sold out to papal thraldom in 1439, it was through the particular favour of heaven that theOttoman empire had been raised to protect theGreeks against heresy, as a safeguard against the politics of the western nations, and as champion of the Roman orthodox church.26 No wonder the patriarch condemned the heroes of the Morea when they rose against their sultan. However, what actually happened in 1453 is still obscured by the writing or rewriting of Roman orthodox, Armenian or Jewish tradition two or three generations later. The non-Muslim peoples then claimed that the conqueror had treated them well. This suited the wishful thinking of all parties, Turks included, and allows modern historians to assume that the status quo of a century later had been in place from the start. Would that things were so tidy, and that sleeping myths could lie. Yet, it is worth looking again at what Sultan Mehmed actually did, and ask: who won or lost Constantinople on 29 May 1453? Even that is not a simple question. The Genoese were first off the mark. Three days later they got the sultan to confirm their privileges in Galata, opposite Constantinople. Dated 1 June 1453, thisTurkish charter granted to the Latins is naturally written inGreek – and preserved today in theBritish Library (fig. 65).But no other community had a ready-made relationship to confirm, or has a document to record a status which had to begin anew through negotiation or accumulated custom. Among losers, Constantine XI lost his life. He had supported not just union with the Latins, but Mehmed’s rival, Orhan – in 1453 there were Turks, too, within Constantinople, if outnumbered by orthodox outside the walls. The sultan’s first action after the fall of the City should also give pause for thought. The fate of the emperor would have posed a tricky problem if Mehmed had taken him alive. The sultan knew, however, what to do with his own prime minister, or grand vizier, Halil Djandarlioghlu (1443–53) – put him to death. The Djandarli family was of impeccable Anatolian Turkish descent. It had served the Ottoman dynasty since 1350, supplying its first and four other grand viziers. But Halil, described by both Muslims and Christians as ‘friend of the Romans’, had cautioned young Mehmed against taking Constantinople. In 1453 the old Anatolian backwoods beys, whom Timur had restored after 1402, and whom Halil represented, were among the losers.27 The ruling orthodox dynasties lost, but a handful of secondary families which switched allegiance – such as the Evrenos of Bithynia or the Vlora of Albania – remained influential under new masters. This period lasted only a generation or two, because their usefulness, to the Ottoman state as well as to their old co-religionists, receded by the end of the century. These decades (1453–92) were, however, vital to the new order, because first-generation converts reached the highest ranks of the Ottoman army and government (which came almost to the same thing) before they forgot their origins. Unlike the Djandarli beys, they were eager for conquest – of their native lands in particular. Like all converts, they tried harder and were typically patrons of new mosques and Islamic foundations in the Christian Balkans and the new capital. Their inherited contacts in the Balkans and the Pontos assisted a relatively orderly transfer of power to Mehmed II.28 An example isMahmud Pasha, a convert who served as the sultan’s grand vizier from 1455 to 1474 and who successfully dealt with the surrender of the Serbian state in 1459 and of the empire of Trebizond in 1461, both after spirited campaigns. Yet both events were something of family affairs. Mahmud was born an Angelovi´c, so the last prime ministers of Serbia and Trebizond, with whom he negotiated, were respectively his brother and a cousin. The latter was none other than George Amiroutzes – the shadow of Florence fell over such Ottomans too.29 After executing his own grand vizier in 1453,Mehmed’s next action was to look for a credible agent through whom to rule his Roman orthodox subjects. Their emperor was dead. Their patriarch, Gregory III Mamme (1443–50?), had literally gone over to Rome. But megas doux Luke Notaras, the last Byzantine prime minister (1449–53), survived.He was outspokenly anti-unionist, andMehmed seems to have turned to him. What exactly went wrong is obscured by mutual recriminations in later tradition, to do with sexual habits which may be acceptable in one culture, yet scandalous in another. Perhaps the reality is that Notaras would not convert to Islam. It would have lost his credibility not with Venice (where he had a good bank account) but with the Roman orthodox, and therefore his usefulness to the sultan. Like Djandarlioghlu, he and his sons were executed. It was only then, in January 1454, that Mehmed looked to the religious institutions of his overwhelmingly non- Muslim subjects as a way of running them.With hindsight, this expedient seems obvious, even predestined, but it was not so at the time; despite the long experience of Islam in dealing with non-Muslim communities, such institutions had yet to be embedded in the Ottoman state. In effect the Muslim sultan restored the ecumenical patriarchate, so setting a precedent for other community leaders whom the Ottomans brought under their eye in Constantinople: a chief haham for Jews (sometime between 1454 and 1492), and a new catholicos for Armenians (sometime between 1461 and 1543), in addition to the privileges granted to western Christians on 1 June 1453, which survived for almost five centuries.30 The reconstitution of the see of Constantinople by the sultan is almost as obscure as its traditional foundation by St Andrew. But the evidence of his deed is enough.Mehmed sought out and installed Gennadios II Scholarios as successor of the first-called apostle, and his own first patriarch. It was an inspired choice. Obviously, he could not trust a unionist ally of the papacy, a leading enemy of theOttomans in thewest. The monkGennadios had rallied the anti-unionists of Constantinople, whose leadership he had inherited from his old teacher, Mark Eugenikos. A veteran of the Council of Florence, Scholarios learned how to deal with the unionists by adapting their own scholastic tools. Now, as patriarch, Gennadios proved adaptable to new facts of life – for example relaxing canon law to allow for the breakup of families and remarriage in the wake of the sack of the City. Even the title he adopted as patriarch was an innovation: ‘the servant of the children ofGod, the humbleGennadios’. In complaining that his bishopswere more trouble than the Turks, he recognised that to save the Roman orthodox, the patriarchate must become an Ottoman institution.31 Mehmed was quite as remarkable as Gennadios. His stepmother was orthodox. He wrote Greek and hung lamps before his collection of icons. He was a patron of Bellini and curious of all new things. Indeed old Turks complained that ‘if you wish to stand in high honour on the sultan’s threshold, you must be a Jew or a Persian or a Frank’.32 Tradition has Mehmed and Scholarios settling the future of the Roman orthodox in taxis, a brave new order, and discussing higher theology in a side chapel of the new patriarchal cathedral of the Pammakaristos. But, happily unaware that they were describing what would later be called a millet, the fifty-year-old patriarch and twenty-two-year-old sultan appear to have felt their way, apparently making up the rules as they went along. The results are clear. It took a Turk to define a Greek adequately as the son of a Roman orthodox. In so doing, Mehmed ensured the survival of a hitherto endangered people, for the Roman orthodox were thenceforth protected subjects of the sultan’s patriarch. The patriarch was responsible to the sultan for regulating the Roman orthodox under canon law – including considerable fiscal franchise over his own flock – in return for privileges and immunities within the Ottoman state.33 It was in nobody’s interest to question such a rosy tradition later. But it overlooks some harder realities of 1454, one of which was that Mehmed II and his predecessors were primarily sultans of a militant Islamic state, however upstart. They took titles and epithets such as khan, shah, malik, ‘shadow of God on earth’ or, more contentiously, ghazi (or holy warrior against the infidel). Mehmed II himself was styled ‘ever victorious’ and fatih (or conqueror). As a pious ruler he founded mosques and charities, which often replaced churches and monasteries; the endowment of St Sophia in Constantinople alone, transferred from cathedral to mosque in 1456/7, numbered over 1,000 properties, including baths, butcheries and beer-shops.34 The Ottoman state inherited from earlier Islamic practice long-established legal ways of dealing with dhimmis – non-Muslims who, although protected, were unquestionably second-class subjects. Christians may have lived under their own canon law, but ultimately it was the sharia, Islamic law, which was supreme.35 In turn Patriarch Gennadios may have been adroit in exploiting the position of the underdog, but in truth his encounters with Mehmed in the Pammakaristos can hardly have been meetings of Renaissance minds. Judging by the patriarch’s voluminous writings, he was deeply Roman and conventionally orthodox. His exposition of faith, prepared for the sultan, is uncompromising, even polemical. For him, both the prophet and the pope were equivalents of the great beast of the Apocalypse. Gennadios had sharp views on the Armenians, too, and told the Jews that they laboured under an appalling delusion; it was in fact the Roman orthodox who were the chosen people of God.36 The fifteenth-centuryOttoman empire reunited the Roman orthodox as subjects of their patriarch in Constantinople. Yet it was not the Byzantine empire in disguise. Mehmed was eventually to resettle Constantinople as the centre of the Roman orthodox world and was to be even more effective in making it the governmental capital of an Islamic empire. But these developments were not overnight decisions, let alone plans, and took a decade or more to work through in a sequence whose details remain unclear. In 1453 the City was almost as depopulated as Thessaloniki had been in 1430. The earliest surviving defter survey (see above, p. 859), dated 1477, which includes Constantinople and the Frankish trading town of Galata across the Golden Horn, has been variously analysed. A total of 16,326 households were registered, making a population of over 80,000. Of these the absolute majority was already Muslim with 9,517 households. There were 5,162 Christian households, the majority (3,748) Roman orthodox, which had been augmented by resettlement (s¨urg¨un) from the Morea after 1460, Trebizond after 1461 and the Crimea after 1475 – the last two in quarters of their own. Besides 372 Armenian households and probably under-recorded Latins and gypsies, the final major element was Jewish, already with 1,647 households.37 Constantinople, and most of its communities, grew prodigiously in roughly the proportions set in 1477, reaching perhaps 200,000 by 1489 and certainly double that population in 1535. The one exception is the curiously small Roman orthodox element as registered in the defters, which by 1489 had hardly grown. While Ottoman statistics can lie, more often they omit. The meetings of patriarch and sultan in the Pammakaristos were off the record, but the defters make one wonder if in 1454 Gennadios did not getMehmed to exempt the refounded patriarchate, its dependants and properties, from the record too. For Gennadios it would only have been a temporary financial precaution. After all, his prediction of the end of the world in 1492 is on record.

 

 

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