Mehmed II, ‘The Conqueror’, in Byzantine short chronicles and old Serbian annals, inscriptions, and genealogies

Mehmed II, ‘The Conqueror’, in Byzantine short chronicles and old Serbian annals, inscriptions, and genealogies

By Korać Dušan and Radić Radivoj

Zbornik radova Vizantoloskog instituta, Vol.45 (2008)

Abstract: This article analyzes how Byzantine Short Chronicles and Old Serbian Annals , Inscriptions, and Genealogies depicted sultan Mehmed II, “The Conqueror”. These sources are similar in character, as a genre belong to medieval popular literature , and reflect in its peculiar way the “public opinion” of the Byzantines and the Serbs, two of the conquered nations under the Ottoman rule. The sultan was in narrow focus of anonymous chronicle writers who, concisely and precisely, recorded important events of his life, above all his military successes. On rare occasions they dared enter next to his name negative qualificatons, even outright rude insults. However , painfully aware in whose empire they all lived, they sometimes used the years of Mehmed’s rule to date personal events in their own lives.

Introduction: The Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (1451–1481) was one of the most powerful and controversial rulers of the Late Middle Ages. His passion for war and thirst for conquest defined his character above anything else. Mehmed was only 21 when, in 1453, he captured Constantinople and brought an end to the Byzantine Empire. He was known as “The Conqueror” ever since. A series of subsequent victories made him one of history’s greatest military commanders. Contemporary Greek writers had ambiguous attitude towards Mehmed. Some, like George Amirutzes, considered him a new “emperor of the Romans”, while others, like Doukas, viewed the sultan as a consummate tyrannos at best, and Antichrist at worst. On the other hand, Kritoboulos highly praised Mehmed for his personal qualities (justice, generosity, courage) as well as for his patronage of trade, craftsmanship , and building activity.

It will be interesting to see how Mehmed II was perceived among the populace of two Orthodox Christian nations which he had destroyed, Byzantium and Serbia. Historical sources at our disposal are the Byzantine Short Chronicles and Old Serbian Annals and Marginalia. They are similar in character and reflect, if we can say so, the “public opinion” of the conquered Christians under the Ottoman rule. As a source they are very different from contemporary historical works written by learned intellectuals. Byzantine Short Chronicles make a very peculiar type of sources, for the history of both Byzantium and surrounding Orthodox nations , and not only for the last two centuries of the Empire, but also for the post Byzantine period.  They consist of mostly brief notes, written in vernacular Greek, which offer concise, even dry, information about important events. Around hundred and twenty chronicles have been preserved and they proved to be very useful for the process of quantification and statistical analysis. Short Chronicles as a genre belong to medieval popular literature. Almost without exception they were written in major monastic centers or in their vicinity, which indicates that they represented a post festum reasoning about the role of eastern and western Christians in defense of the Balkans and Byzantium against the Turks. They do not reflect only viewpoints of the church hierarchy, political, and intellectual elite, but also attitudes of wider social strata in the postbyzantine society, from which monks scribes were recruited. Geographically, the Short Chronicles were focused on Eastern Mediterranean, and were written in great monastic communities of Mount Athos and the island of Patmos, but also in Thessaloniki, Constantinople, and other centers of Orthodoxy in the former Byzantine oikoumene.

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