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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Ottoman History: How Romania became part of the Empire?

Mehmet, the "Conqueror of Constantinople" faced a crushing defeat in Wallachia but Vlad Tepes, Impaler of the Turks, did not expect Mehmet's Janisarries to arrive at his doorsteps so quickly. Wallachians fought bravely but were no match for Ottoman cavalry under Omer Bey, conqueror of Athens. Interesting read for students of history!

On a mild August evening, in the autumn of 1462, Vlad Tepes (Impaler), the mighty Voivode of Wallachia in modern day Romania, listened in disbelief to reports from his scouts. An Ottoman horde was rapidly converging on his fortress of Targoviste from the south.

To Wallachia’s infamous Impaler of the Turks, it was inconceivable, nay, impossible for the enemy to have regrouped so quickly after the crushing defeat he had inflicted on them. As Vlad contemplated his options, a steady stream of couriers and scouts kept updating him with the deteriorating situation on his southern borders.

Until recently, Vlad had been basking on the victory of his surprise Night Attack. The triumph at the mountain pass near Targoviste in southern Transylvania and the subsequent slaughter of 15000 infidel Turks had been celebrated across the cities of Christendom. In the aftermath of his victory, the scion of the Draculesti family, had impaled (fixed on stakes) Turkish prisoners in their thousands and left their bodies rotting on stakes, for the world to see.

As a member of the order of Dracul(Dragon), he had fulfilled his sacred oath to defend Christendom against the enemies of Christ. The severe losses coupled with the ghastly sight of his impaled warriors had been enough for Mehmet, the Ottoman sultan to withdraw across the Danube for the time.

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Conqueror of Constantinople was master of European politics

Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople or Ottoman Istanbul, was known as the Eagle by his enemies in Europe. With the first professional army of Europe at his disposal, a civil and military bureaucracy run by young converts devoted solely to the ideals of their Sultan and Islam. He aspired to emulate the Roman Empire by reuniting two ancient capitals of Rome itself.

It was with this grand purpose that Mehmed had set out in 1462 to tame his insubordinate vassals, at the forefront of whom was Vlad, ruler of Wallachia, an Ottoman tribute paying state.

At Mehmet’s side was Vlad’s brother, Radu the Handsome. Radu was a close friend of the Sultan since childhood and had accepted Islam. Radu and Vlad had been sent by their father as hostages to the Ottoman court to ensure his loyalty to the Sultan. In the aftermath of the Ottoman defeat in the summer of 1462, Radu would play a critical role in dethroning his bloodthirsty brother from the kingship of Wallachia.

Mehmet appointed Radu as commander of the elite Janissary infantry battalions with the sole purpose of capturing the near-impenetrable mountain strongholds of Vlad, perched atop the formidable peaks of the Carpathian range. However, someone would have to lead the Ottoman cavalry in order to destroy Vlad’s field army and cut off supplies.

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Omer Bey conqueror of Athens enters Wallachian battle

The man chosen by Mehmet held a record of spectacular battlefield triumphs to his name. As a young commander in his 30s, Turhanoglu Omer Bey had been instrumental in routing the combined forces of the Despots of Morea and Venice, leading to the annexation of modern day Greece to the Ottoman Empire.

The highlight of his triumphs was the surrender of the Duke of Athens underneath the towering walls of the Acropolis. In the aftermath of his successes, he had been awarded the governorship of Thessaly. Omer was appointed commander of the cavalry with the express order to exact retribution from the insolent Wallachians. Radu’s force would then follow up to occupy Vlad’s indomitable strongholds.

In August 1462, months after the crushing Ottoman defeat at the Night Attack, Omer Bey’s force of 8,000 cavalry crossed the Danube into Wallachia. On the way, they were met by more of Vlad’s grisly trophies, impaled Turkish soldiers, women and children.

Undaunted, Omer and his men pushed deeper, destroying Wallachian fortalices and outposts designed to prevent the Ottoman army from crossing the Danube. Vlad had fled to neighbouring Moldavia but left behind a 10,000 strong contingent with orders to engage and destroy Omer’s force in a series of set-piece battles.

The contest turned out to be a sham. Omer’s forces rapidly surrounded and wiped out the separated contingents. Wallachian attempts to ambush and surround the invader in the mountain passes repeatedly failed as the Turkish horse destroyed all in its path, climbing the steepest mountains in the Carpathians to surprise and cut down the enemy. To crown his victory, Omer presented 2000 decapitated Wallachian heads to Sultan Mehmet, putting an end to organized resistance. Vlad’s rule was now confined to his fortresses.

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Wallachia becomes an Ottoman vassal state

Meanwhile, to the south, the janissary battalions were already in the process of crossing the mighty Danube. While engineers rapidly established bridges to ford the river, scouts were sent ahead to reconnoitre the mountain passes to the north for enemy movement. It became apparent that the remaining Wallachian forces were being concentrated in a series of strongholds, at the centre of which lay Vlad’s mighty fortress of Targoviste. Nestling against a steep cliff, Targoviste was inaccessible except for a narrow path to the main entrance.

Radu rapidly advanced on the Wallachian stronghold, brushing aside all resistance. Once the fortress was surrounded, the janissaries began scaling the steep cliffs to reach the outer walls. Wallachian resistance was fierce, while initial Turkish assaults were repelled. However, the arrival of light artillery enabled the Turks to unleash a hellish barrage on the stronghold. Under its cover, janissary mountaineers scaled the cliffs and walls. Eventually successful, the janissaries then slaughtered the remaining defenders.

In the meantime, Radu returned to the city of Bucharest, where he was appointed the new Voivode of Wallachia, which reverted to its status as an Ottoman vassal state, under the patronage of the Sultan.

Turahanoglu Omer Bey went on to distinguish himself in further campaigns in the Balkans against Venice. His tomb survives to this day in Tekirdag, Turkey. Radu went on to rule Wallachia till 1475. Vlad Tepes returned to Wallachia the same year to be crowned king a third time. However, his stint was brief and he was driven out and killed by the Turks for a third and final time in 1477; he was decapitated and his head was sent to Mehmet as a prized trophy.

Ammad Usman, a young scholar, is researching into military history of Ottomans; he earlier studied at McGill University and University of Toronto.