An Anatolian Carpet with Animal Designs, c. fourteenth century

By the providence of God the city of Constantine again became subject to the Emperor of the Romans, in a just and fitting way, on the 25th July, in the fourth indiction, in the 6769th year since the creation of the world, after being held by the enemy for fifty-eight years.

The Byzantine historian George Akropolites writing of the quiet death of the Latin empire of Byzantium in 1261, and the return of the Greeks.

The Ilkhanate collapsed in 1336, and from the wreckage of the Mongol province of Anatolia a number of Turkish warlord statelets emerged. Byzantine aristocrats and their personal armies had returned to Europe upon the ‘defeat’ of the Latins, as the Empire concentrated its efforts on bringing the Black Sea coast and Bulgaria back to suzerainty, and on recovering the Peloponnese and the Morea. The emperor, Michael, also had to resist the rising Orthodox state of Serbia, and the ambitions of Charles of Anjou and of Sicily, and he briefly embraced Catholicism following the Council of Lyon in 1274 to gain assistance against Charles in Thessaly.


Byzantine military shortcomings required the employment of Turkish mercenaries in the army, and of the employment of akritai, nomad mercenary warriors, to defend the Anatolian border. The problem was that these nomads were highly attracted to successful ‘Turkish’ tribes from over the border. Such associations could be found across Eurasia from the times of Attila through to the times of Chinggis Khan. The tribes that operated in Anatolia contained Byzantine Greeks, Turks, Kurds and Armenians. The most successful of these warrior bands were the Ottomans, and they also attracted Turks fleeing the disasters to the east. It was local success in the borderlands and against other local Turkish lords that brought more and more akinji, or raiders, to the standard of Osman.

Europe was pulled into Anatolian affairs by Turkish piracy, and the Venetians, along with Cypriot and Papal troops, took Smyrna in 1344 to deny its port to the pirate emirs. Then Anatolia came to Europe as a Byzantine civil war began between the regent, John Kantakouzenos, and the party of the infant emperor, John V Palaiologos. Kantakouzenos allied with Serbia in 1342 but the Serbian boyars soon enough double-crossed him and he turned to the Anatolian Turks for assistance. Ottoman troopers were carried across the Dardanelles by the small Byzantine navy and they quickly conquered Thrace, but Macedonia was lost to the Serbs. The Ottomans plundered Greece, and Bulgaria after its Tsar allied with the faction of John V. To add to Byzantium’s torture, the Black Death ravaged Constantinople between 1346 and 1349.

Kantakouzenos took the throne, and the Ottoman sultan, Orhan, married his daughter. By 1352 20,000 Ottoman troops fought for Kantakouzenos against John V and his Serbian allies at the Battle of Demotika. The Ottomans gained more from their subsequent victory than Kantakouzenos, who eventually lost Constantinople to John. After conducting several campaigns in the service of Kantakouzenos Orhan politely presented a bill of expenses. It called, among other items, for the surrender to him of a Greek stronghold on the European side of the Dardanelles. Like many another foolish and ambitious schemer, the Greek discovered too late that it was easier to summon the Devil than to get rid of him. After vain remonstrances he was obliged to make over the small castle of Cimpe Tzympe to his Ottoman ally in 1354. The Ottomans were in Europe and Crusades would be launched again and again to try to dislodge them.

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