Vyronis tells how this crushing defeat woke up all the Greek nation to the danger of the Muslim Turks:
Oh. But the infighting topic is already getting boring, so let’s talk about the new boss: the Turks.
I remember reading some years ago some smartass claiming that the Turkish conquest was a good thing, because the Byzantines had double taxes to pay for State and Church, and Muslims have it more streamlined. Yeah he really said so. Of course when one just sees the maps changing colors it doesn’t seem like the change was more than just one boss going out and a new boss coming in. The old story of how feudal wars were a trivial business because nobody wanted to harm the peasants who actually pay the taxes, so it was just some dozens of knights slashing each other without doing much harm.
Well the Turkish assault in Asia Minor was nothing of the sort. First of all Turks weren’t feudal, nor knights. They were nomadic horse riders, born and raised fighters who waged war while carrying their horses, sheep, tents, women and children with them. A literal nation at war. Or basically a band of bandits grown too big. They mostly raided each other’s herds until they found out they could gang up and raid settled villages, for mutual profit. The day the Turks figured that one up, the future of the Middle East was sealed.
When the Seljuqs settled down in Persia, the Sultan sent their nomadic kin up north to raid the Byzantines so they wouldn’t raid their Persian subjects. Turkmen (how Vyronis calls the nomadic part of the Seljuq nation) usual way of waging war was this. I quote randomly:
When the Muslim Nur al-Din captured the city of Edessa (…) 30,000 were killed, 16,000 enslaved, and only 1,000 escaped
Melitene and its population of wealthy Syrian, Armenian, and Greek merchants suffered the fate of Artze, as great numbers of the inhabitants were either killed or enslaved, and the booty the Turks took-gold, silver, and other loot-was great
The most important Byzantine city in Armenia, Ani, was taken and many of the inhabitants put to the sword or carried into slavery.
During the reign of Manuel the armies of Kilidj Arslan sacked the city so thoroughly, that it eventually had to be restored.
In 1108 Turks burned the villages about Edessa and enslaved the farming population
The Turks reached the important Cappadocian city of Caesareia after having been let through by the recalcitrant troops guarding Melitene. They plundered, destroyed, and burned the city, singling out the famous shrine of St. Basil. This they looted, carrying away all the holy items of the church, and attempted to break into the structure housing the saint’s remains, The church was desecrated and the inhabitants massacred.
The Syrian city of Hierapolis, the Turkish bands raided farther into Anatolia, and for the second time in the long history of the Christian- Muslim holy war, the famous city of Amorium was sacked by a Muslim army, and its citizens massacred.
The city of Chonae had been savagely pillaged by the Turks. The famed shrine of the Archangel was profaned and turned into a stable for the Turkish horses, and the raiders “filled the region with murder,” The inhabitants, who were accustomed to flee to the caverns, where the river went underground in the vicinity of the sanctuary, were all drowned when the river suddenly flooded.
The invaders destroyed Croulla and Catoicia and the inhabitants were put to the sword and enslaved. The regions of Scamander, Ida, Assus, and Pegae were desolated, and Cenchrae was reduced by blockade. When the Turks entered the latter town they killed the majority of the inhabitants, pillaged the town, and then intentionally destroyed it by fire.
Ever read those stories about Gengis Khan’s armies? Well the Turks are the Mongols distant cousins and neighbours. And those are the nomads rules of engagement. All of the above stories weren’t done by a cohesive state in a process of conquest. This was done by bands of bandits looking for plunder and blood. And plunder and blood they got plenty. All those slaves were eventually to be found in Persia’s harems and farms. See, nomads don’t give a shit about keeping the peasants productive and leaving off them. If the peasants die and the land isn’t cultivated, that’s more pasture for them.
During the next century a new military dynasty, the Komnenos, won the imperial throne, and with Crusader assistance, went to reconquer most of the lost lands. The Turks didn’t like it:
When the emperor began to attack Neocaesareia, the fury of the Turks against the Christians increased in all the lands which they held. Whosoever mentioned the name of the emperor, even by accident, received the sword, and his children and house were taken. In this manner many perished in Melitene and in other lands, up until the emperor suddenly departed.
But the Christian armies were stopped at Konya, the old Ikonion, were some Turks built a state in the central and eastern Anatolian plateau, the eerie sounding Sultanate of Rum (Rome). The Sultanate was a settled realm administered in Persian, but not all Turks settled down. Thousands kept their nomadic style, making pasture of the lands of the peasants they had killed or sold into slavery. Nomads were unruly but very handy as a military force.
The fighting continued for decades, leaving a trail of desolation and scorched land behind each army, but with neither side gaining an upper hand. Until the Komnenian dynasty collapsed in 1180. Then the Turks unleashed the nomads to go in a new cycle of plunder, while Greeks rebelled and Byzantine soap opera went running again. While Byzantium kept busy fighting himself and her Christian cousins from the Fourth Crusade (who had the nerve to conquer Constantinople itself), the Sultanate too collapsed after 1250, when the Mongols invaded from the east, and Turkmen nomads rebelled and established dozens of small lordships. The collapse of central authority in the Turkish held land was a really bad deal for the Greek population, for it unleashed the vicious nomads who went on besieging cities and putting their inhabitants to the sword. The collapse of the Sultanate also meant that literate Persian culture was replaced by more basic Turkish customs, and the Turkish language was used in the administration for the first time. And instead of a more or less traditional king who cares about the big picture, you get less tolerant petty lords with narrower interests. By 1300 all of Anatolia was on the hands of small petty kingdoms constantly warring with each other. One of them, in Bithynia, the north-west belt of the peninsula, was the house of Osman, who during the next 150 years would put the rest of Byzantium under its boot.
Byzantium in 1400
-Fate of the Greeks –
By the 15th century, when the Ottoman empire reunites Anatolia, the Greek population had collapsed. There’s two big pieces of evidence for this, one is Ottoman tax registers which show just a 7.9% Christian population (between Greeks, Syrians and Armenians).
And we have internal documents of the Orthodox Church, which tell the situation of the Church, and by consequence that of the Greek population in Anatolia. For a long time, the Empire kept the illusion that Anatolia would be reconquered, and kept the old structure, with its hundreds of bishops, intact to be redeployed once the land was recovered. By the 15th century everybody knew the game was over, and the documents reflect it. From 373 bishops in Anatolia and 142 in Europe (including Calabria at the time), the Christians were reduced to 115 in Europe and merely 3 in Anatolia. Manuel II Palaiologos, Emperor in 1425, travelled around western Anatolia as an Ottoman Vassal. This is what he saw:
The plain in which we are now [encamped] had some name when it prospered and was inhabited and ruled by Rhomaioi. Now that I seek to learn that name, I am ignorantly inquiring after wolf’s wings, as the saying goes, for there is no one to teach it to me. There are many cities to be seen here, but they have no inhabitants, by which inhabitants towns are ornamented and without which [inhabitants] one could not call them cities. The majority of the cities remain a miserable sight to those whose ancestors formerly inhabited them. Not even their names survive as a result of their previous ruin. Upon inquiring as to the names of the cities, whenever those to whom I addressed the inquiry would reply, “we call them by those names” (for time obliterated their names) I am instantly distressed, but lament in silence still being in control of my senses.
The Greek population was reduced firstly by war. The Turkish tradition of massacring and enslaving whole towns and villages surely had an impact, especially when you think that the conquest of Anatolia wasn’t just one war, but a very long and protracted process during more than 300 years. Many Greeks also fled the invasion, seeking asylum in the European lands of the Empire. In their place hordes of Turks, Mongols and their Persian or Arab serfs immigrated during the centuries.
Still a land of 10 million wasn’t emptied, and a substantial part of the original population must have remained there. What happened to them? They were assimilated, that is converted to Islam and Turkified linguistically. First the Church was decimated. Orthodox Christianity was a top down business, pretty much an arm of the state bureaucracy. It was established in state built churches in each town, and it’s charity work was based on state granted land holdings. The Turks, being recent converts to Islam, really enjoyed the Ghazi or Jihadi parts of the faith. The idea that killing and suppressing the infidel was good. The first thing a Turkish lord would do on capturing a town would be seizing the Church and any land pertaining to it. The bishop and staff, thus reduced to poverty, without an income or even a building, could hardly afford to do the sacraments or any religious feasts as they used to. The Christian population, lacking guidance, soon converted their once sophisticated faith into a comical amalgam of superstition. Joseph Bryennios, an Orthodox monk in the late 14th century, took a look about the Christians remaining in Anatolia:
Some are baptized by single immersion, othcrs by triple immersion. Many Christians do not know how, or simply refuse, to makc the sign of the Cross, Priests perform ordinations, administer communion, and remit sins all for cash payment. They live with their wives before marriage, and the monks cohabit with the nuns. There is no blasphemy that Christians do not employ. (…)
Not only men, but the race of women also, are not ashamed to sleep as nakedly as when they were born. They give over immature daughters to corruption. They dress their wives in men’s clothing. We are not ashamed to celebrate the holy days of the feasts with flutes, dances, all satanic songs, carousels, drunkenesses, and other shameful customs…
Those same buildings and assets were given to Islamic institutions, along with legal privileges. Turks also continued the old Islamic tradition of living off the infidels. Christians were drafted into the army and the administration, to be used for Islamic purposes.
The 13th century Ince Madrassa in Konya
Whole Christian villages would be forced to pay a tithe (besides state taxes) to support Islamic madrassas, hospitals or charities, which would set aside income especially for attending the necessities of converts to Islam. All the institutions used income extracted from Christians to proselytise. Which they did, and quite successfully. Why wouldn’t a Christian convert? The Empire had fallen, miserably, and the Christian population had been massacred, enslaved and victimised in any way imaginable. Surely God didn’t love Christians much when it allowed that to happen. Again from Bryennios:
Our rulers are unjust, those who oversee our affairs are rapacious, the judges accept gifts, the mediators are liars, the city dwellers are deceivers, the rustics are unintelligible, and all are useless. Our virgins are more shameless than prostitutes, the widows more curious than they ought to be, the married women disdain and keep not faith, the young men are licentious and the aged drunkards. The nuns (have) insulted their calling, the priests have forgotten God, the monks have strayed from the straight road. … Many of us live in gluttony, drunkenness, fornication,adultery, foulness, licentiousness,hatred, rivalry, jealousy, envy, and theft. We have become arrogant, braggart, avaricious, selfish, ungrateful, disobedient, irreconcilable….It is these things and others like them which bring down upon us the chastisements of God.
The psychological ground was there for people to switch their faith. All that was needed was a little push. And push they did. Islam gets a bad rep for their tradition of forced conversion, and while that is true and it happened quite often, forced conversions don’t really work well. Faith lives in the deepest part of people’s soul, and while the threat of death might make you obedient, most forced converts would just keep their faith to themselves at their homes while pretending otherwise in public. Islam’s success story owes as much to the sword of its warriors as to the mendicant preachers of the dervishes. The great Sufi dervish orders appear in the borders of Persia just in the eleventh century, and their missionary zeal naturally took them to the newly conquered lands of old Byzantine Asia Minor. Dervish orders was a heterodox, emotional movement, not dissimilar to the first missionaries in the early Middle Ages of Western Europe, or the Methodist preachers in the United States. While dervishes were often expelled from old Islamic kingdoms for their heterodoxy, they thrived in the tumultuous environment of Turkic Anatolia. Deprived people have a weak spot for ascetic wanderers preaching the path to heaven.
While today most of the history is the stuff of legends, with stories of missionaries becoming animals, making miracles, and converting people by sheer wisdom:
One day a Greek architect constructed a chimney in the house of the Mastcr. The friends, by way of joking, said to him: “Since Islam is the best religion, why do you not become a Muslim ?”
He replied: “I have been a follower of Christ for fifty years. I fear Him and would be ashamed to abandon His religion.” The Master suddenly entered and spoke: “The mystery of faith is fear. Whosoever fears God, even though he be a Christian, is religious not irreligious.” After having pronounced these words, he disappeared, The Christian architect was converted, and become a disciple and sincere friend as well.
Christians were probably more than willing to convert to a religion that preached to them, gave them charity, and erased the crushing legal disabilities that Islam forces on infidel subjects. The combination of demoralisation, effective preaching and economic incentives created a fertile ground for conversion, and in three centuries time the process was almost complete. And with conversion came Turkification. Most urban centers had been destroyed, and new ones rebuilt under Turkish leadership, which made most towns Turkish speaking very early on. Dervishes also operated in Turkish, as all of the administration. The association of Islam with the Turkish language was a very natural one.
Pockets of Greek speakers survived in the Black Sea coast, where a branch of Greek nobility had kept independence in Trebizond even longer than Constantinople itself (1460), and some isolated mountain villages. In fact the religious situation in the area more or less froze after the Ottoman Empire established itself in Constantinople after 1453. The Ottomans were not a bunch of disorganised nomads, but a highly organised settled empire, which in little time had conquered most of south-eastern Europe. They had an empire to run, and while they were as pious Muslims as any one else, they didn’t want to harm their taxpaying peasants. So they invented this millet system. While grabbing all the nicest Churches for themselves (like the poor Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Apostles), they didn’t destroy the Orthodox Church. On the contrary, they established it as the head of all the Christian subjects of the empire, and gave it appropriate resources. In fact the Republic of Turkey still names a Patriarch of the Orthodox Church to this day. While some conversion did happen, the Christian character of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia didn’t change in 400 of Ottoman rule.
The Turkey of today, particularly in Istanbul, might seem too white for a Muslim country, but those aren’t the old Greeks. Anatolian Greeks weren’t probably that white anyway, themselves descended from the original tribes of the land. Deep in Ottoman times, Asia Minor saw massive immigration from Circassians, Albanians (Egypt’s Ali Pasha was Albanian), Bosniaks, etc. Ottoman armies depended much on Janissaries, special forces made of kidnapped Christian boys who were raised as Muslim soldiers. They tended to climb high in the Ottoman hierarchy, and those were also white.
That’s the story of the transformation of Anatolia from a Christian, Greek land, to a Muslim, Turkish one. If any, the moral of the story seems to me to be that carrot and stick works, especially if have a big, heavy stick with many spikes on it, and use it profusely. The Turks destroyed the Christian society by murder, slavery and rape. The Byzantine counter attack didn’t help, it’s half-assed nature simply prolonging the phase of murdering and enslaving. Once Muslim rule was established by sheer brutality, the carrot came in the shape of state sponsored proselytising and medicant missionaries. People don’t like to switch religions, but in the end personal faith is nothing without the backing of institutions, and the Orthodox Church was dead. Islamic institutions took its place, and the population followed. Islam only survives in Eastern Europe because the Ottoman court didn’t destroy the Christian institutions.
Historically the association of religious institutions with carrots is very strong. Christianity got big in the Roman Empire because it was one of the few groups who actually helped random people. Rodney Stark argued that Christianity grew most during the plague times, as the mortality rate was much reduced just by giving basic care and water to the sick. Pagans would flee each man to himself, while Christians were the only ones helping people. Over time, Christians grew by the mortality differential. Being nice pays.
Islam understands this too, that’s why Islamist parties have names like Justice and Development, or Freedom and Justice. They also tend to operate charities, a fact that Western leftist journalists also use to conceal their terrorist associations (they’re just a charity!). Christian churches in the West also have charity operations, but most people in Europe don’t really need assistance anymore, and with the withdrawal of preaching to children in schools, Church attendance has all but collapsed. There’s no more stick, and people have more to eat than carrots.