Lasting Falls and Wishful Recoveries: Crusading in the Black Sea Region after the Fall of Constantinople
By Alexandru Simon
Imago temporis: medium Aevum, No.6 (2012)
Abstract: This paper examines the Black Sea question in the second half of the 15th century, with special emphasis on crusading and religious questions. Based on selection of recently discovered Italian archival sources, the study focuses on a series of pivotal moments in the history of the region: the battle of Belgrade (1456), the fall of Caffa (1475) and the Ottoman conquest of Chilia and Cetatea Albă/ Akkerman (1484). All three events implied a succession of extreme reactions, both in military and in ideological terms, vivid proofs for the pressures and the stakes of those times. Such aspects tend to be particulary relevant if the religiously and ethnically mixed character of the areas under analysis is taken into account. Moverover, under these circumstances, it is highly noteworthy that “figures”, previously predominantly regarded as “traitors of the cross” become its “heroes” (e.g. the Genoese in 1456 or the Walachians in 1475), supplementing the number of the crusaders confronting the Ottoman power, in a time when also the ranks of the “partners” of the Turk was growing, until he was “officially” accepted as an “European partner” through the peace of Buda (1503).
Introduction: Prior to the decisive confrontations between the Ottoman army and the crusaders at Belgrade (July 21-23, 1456), ‘the free Christian world’ awaited a new disaster that had to complete the catastrophe of 1453 and open Italia and Germania as well to the Ottoman power. The almost desperate attempts of Serbian despot George Branković and Walachian ruler Wladislaw II (both, until then, the ‘sworn’ enemies of hero John Hunyadi) to halt Mehmed II’s northern advance had ended badly in June. The ‘crusaders of Belgrade’ were one step away from fighting each other, for reasons of tongue or for motifs of social rank. Hunyadi’s ‘professionals’ and Giovanni da Capestrano’s ‘penitents’ had great chances of becoming martyrs if they did not kill each other before falling into Ottoman spears. However, the miracle took place. Mehmed had to retreat. The Christian dreams began. Constantinople was to be recovered, then Nazareth and eventually Jerusalem. For a good while, in that summer and autumn of 1456, many actually believed that Constantinople had been liberated.
At that time, John Hunyadi had died. Viewed as the true heir to the imperial crown of Constantine XI Palaeologus (by the Greeks in his entourage), as the mythical founder of Byzantium, the Yanko bin Madyan (by the Ottomans Turks), the late hero had started as a misfit and reached immense power and prestige in the 1440s. It was time for another ‘set’ of misfits to take center stage and prolong the existence of the hopes and dreams born by the ‘miracle of Belgrade’. That is at least what a letter in an Italian archive suggests. In fact, it was drafted before news of Hunyadi’s death arrived. This might indicate that there was plenty of room for misfits which could have redeemed (the) Christian honor and resurrected an elusive dream. At any rate, it completed the background that enabled also some altogether sketchy plans for the canonization of the later hero. But he had been at least as mortal and sinful (given also his bribing that contributed to the crusader disaster of Varna) as the ‘new liberators’.