The Tsar chose a heavenly kingdom
And not an earthly kingdom.
He built a church on Kosovo.
He built it not with floor of marble
But laid down silk and scarlet on the ground.
There he summoned the Patriarch of Serbia
And twelve great bishops.
Then he gave the soldiers the Eucharist and their battle orders.
In that same hour that the Prince gave orders to his soldiers
The Turks attacked Kosovo . . .
Then the Turks overwhelmed Lazar,
And the Tsar Lazar was destroyed,
And his army was destroyed with him,
Of seven and seventy thousand soldiers.
All was holy, all was honourable,
And the goodness of God was fulfilled.
The Kosovo Cycle
With the departure of John VI Cantacuzenus, it was generally acknowledged by all the princes of Christendom that Byzantium was on the verge of collapse. To what power, however, was it to fall? Already four months before the abdication, the Venetian bailo in Constantinople had reported to his government that the Byzantines were ready to make their submission to anyone who asked them to; four months after it, we find the Doge of Venice proposing the immediate annexation of the Empire, if only to save it from the Ottoman tide.
As it happened, however, there was at that moment another power in eastern Europe more powerful than either Venice or the Turks: Stephen Dushan, whose dominions encompassed — as well as Serbia, Macedonia and much of Bulgaria - the entire Greek mainland as far as the Gulf of Corinth, excepting only Attica, Boeotia and the Peloponnese. Throughout his life, Stephen had been inspired by a single dream - to rule his own Serbian Empire from the imperial throne in Constantinople. To this end he had negotiated at one time or another with every ruler in Europe who might have proved useful to him, including the Turkish Emirs and even the Pope, over whom he had dangled the usual bait of ecclesiastical union; and he might well have achieved his ambition - and even, conceivably, changed the history of Europe - had he not been stricken by sudden illness while still in his prime. He died in December 1355, aged only forty-six, having made no proper arrangements for the succession.
Immediately his Empire began to disintegrate. His son Stephen Urosh V, who had been left in charge of the old Serbian region to the north while Stephen Dushan had governed the Greek lands of 'Romania', had neither the ability nor the authority to prevent various other members of his family — and even quite humble members of his court1 - from declaring themselves independent princes. Within a year, the 'Empire of the Serbs and Greeks' was as if it had never been. To the Byzantines it seemed an almost miraculous deliverance. In fact, however - as they well knew — they were themselves too weak to draw any positive advantage. John V made no effort to recapture the former Byzantine dominions, and although Nicephorus II, the deposed Despot of Epirus, made a determined attempt to do so he had achieved little before being killed in battle in 1358. The truth was that the death of Dushan meant nothing more than the substitution of one threat by another: for the collapse of the Serbian Empire presented the Turks with just the opportunity that they had been waiting for. No longer was there any power in Europe capable of resisting their advance.
Although John V had already been co-Emperor for fourteen years, he was still only twenty-three — and a very different person from his father-in-law. Where John Cantacuzenus had pursued a policy of unashamed appeasement with the Ottoman Turks, even going so far as to marry his daughter to the Emir Orhan, John Palaeologus had little patience with diplomacy. He believed - righdy - that the world was not ultimately large enough to contain Byzantines and Turks together. It followed that the latter must be eliminated. This meant war, and war - given the
1 One of them, Vukashin, who ruled as Despot between Prilep and Lake Ochrid, had been Stephen Dushan's cupbearer; his brother John Uglcsha, Despot of Serres, had been the Tsar's hippokomos, or groom.
present state of the Empire - meant a grand Christian alliance against the infidel. The age of the Crusades might be over, and attempts at such alliances in more recent years had not proved conspicuously successful; but Pope Clement VI, despite his exile in Avignon, had managed to form a league against Umur of Aydin in 1344, and now that the Turks had acquired a permanent foothold in Europe the nations of the West must surely see the necessity, both political and religious, of taking decisive action while there was still time.
Just a year after his accession, on 15 December 1355, John sent envoys to Avignon bearing a letter addressed to Clement's successor, Innocent VI. It contained a long and detailed proposal, according to which the Pope would immediately dispatch to Constantinople five hundred knights, a thousand infantry, fifteen transport ships and five galleys. These would serve under the Emperor's personal command, against not only the Turks but also his own Greek enemies in the Balkans, for a period of six months. Throughout that time a papal legate would reside in the capital, where he would oversee the appointments of distinguished ecclesiastics favourable to the cause of Church union. Mass conversions would almost certainly follow, and there would be no longer any obstacle to imperial submission to the Holy See. As a further guarantee of his good faith, the Emperor would send his second son Manuel — then aged five — to Avignon; should he himself for whatever reason fail to honour his commitments to the letter, His Holiness would be free to bring up the boy as he wished, educating him in the Catholic faith and eventually marrying him to whomsoever he chose. Meanwhile Manuel's elder brother Andronicus, the heir-presumptive to the throne, would receive intensive instruction in Latin language and literature, and three Latin colleges would be founded to ensure that the sons of the imperial nobility should enjoy a similar degree of enlightenment. If by any chance the Emperor proved unable to bring about the mass conversions for which he hoped, he would at least make a personal submission himself; if on the other hand he was successful, he would request further, more ambitious assistance: nothing less than a great Christian army that would drive the Turks back into Central Asia. This too would be commanded by the Emperor, who would take the title of 'Captain-General and Standard-Bearer of the Holy Mother Church'.
This extraordinary missive reached Avignon in June 1356; Innocent VI, a sensible down-to-earth Frenchman, does not seem to have taken it too seriously. He returned a polite reply, expressing his gratification that John was willing to lead his people back into the Roman fold but making no reference to any of his detailed proposals. Clearly he expected no conversions en bloc, and had no intention of sending any Christian armies; what did interest him, however, was the possibility of the Emperor's own personal conversion. He therefore expressed his readiness to dispatch to him two special legates, through whose agency he looked forward to receiving John into the Holy Church as his faithful son in Christ.
These legates were both bishops. One was a Carmelite named Peter Thomas; the other was William Conti, a Dominican. They arrived in Constantinople in April 1357, and were warmly welcomed by the Emperor; but they achieved little. The assertion by Peter Thomas's hagiographer1 that he succeeded in converting the Emperor is amply disproved by later events; in fact both bishops, seeing that the situation bore no resemblance to what John had suggested in his letter, soon gave up the struggle. Conti returned to his flock, while Peter Thomas travelled on to Cyprus, where he was subsequently appointed Apostolic Legate in the East. As for the Emperor, he was lucky to get off so lightly. Had the Pope taken his letter at its face value, sent an army as requested and then demanded the fulfilment of his promises, his position would have been difficult indeed. There was, it is true, a fairly substantial party in Constantinople that was not averse to ecclesiastical union; it included Demetrius Cydones, the distinguished scholar and translator of St Thomas Aquinas, who at about this time was actually received into the Roman Church. But the overwhelming majority of influential Byzantines, both lay and clerical, still upheld the old beliefs; indeed, Patriarch Callistus - who had resumed his office after the abdication of his enemy John VI — had recently obtained from both the Bulgarian and the Serbian Patriarchates the recognition of the supremacy of Constantinople. In such circumstances it is difficult to believe that John V could have entertained any serious hopes of ecclesiastical union; even if he did, by the summer of 1357 they must certainly have been swept away.
The story of John Palaeologus's letter to the Pope remains worth telling, however, for one reason only: as an example of the Emperor's basic unreliability, his tendency to act on a sudden impulse without any but the most cursory consideration of its possible consequences. As his father-in-law John Cantacuzenus had always known, his were not the hands into which to confide the fate of an Empire threatened on the
1 Philippe de Mezieres, Chancellor of the French Kingdom of Cyprus, The Life of St Peter Thomas.
outside with imminent destruction, and on the inside with disintegration and collapse.
Meanwhile, the Ottomans were spreading across Thrace. Suleyman's capture of Gallipoli in 1354 had given them the bridgehead they needed, and their advance had begun almost at once. Before long, too, those other bands of freebooting Turks who had come over in answer to appeals by John Cantacuzenus to the Emirs of Aydin or Saruchan -together with others who had arrived independently as corsairs - rallied to their standard. As early as 1359 an advance guard had reached the walls of Constantinople. Fortunately it was not large enough to constitute any immediate threat to the city; but the rest of Thrace, less well protected and exhausted by civil war, proved an easy victim. In 1361 Didymotichum fell; in 1362, Adrianople. In every city and village that was captured, a large part of the native population was transported to slavery in Asia Minor, its place being taken by Turkish colonists. That same year, 1362, saw the death of Orhan. He was succeeded as Emir - Suleyman having died two years before - by his son Murad, who soon proved himself a more energetic and determined leader than either his father or his elder brother, campaigning not only in Thrace but also in Bulgaria, capturing Philippopolis in 1363 and putting considerable pressure on the Bulgar Tsar John Alexander to collaborate with him against Byzantium.
When reports of their discussions reached Constantinople, John Palaeologus lost no time: with what few ships and fighting men he had available, in 1364 he personally led a punitive attack on the Bulgarian Black Sea ports and occupied Anchialus. It did him little strategic good, but was probably worth it for the psychological effect it had on his subjects. Doomed the Empire might be, but it had shown itself to be still capable of an occasional victory. On the Emperor's return his hopes were briefly raised by a report that Pope Urban V was at last making arrangements for a Crusade, to be led by the Catholic Kings Louis I of Hungary and Peter I of Cyprus, with the active and enthusiastic participation of his own cousin Count Amadeus VI of Savoy;1 but instead of marching against the Turks this expedition eventually headed for Egypt, where in October 1365 it suffered an ignominious defeat. Once again John had to look for allies.
He had already tried Serbia - or what was left of it - sending
1 The father of Amadeus had been a half-brother of John's mother, the Empress Anne.
Patriarch Callistus as his personal envoy. The Patriarch had seen the widow of Stephen Dushan, but had unfortunately died almost immediately afterwards without having reached any substantive agreement; and the inevitable rumours of poison, though certainly unfounded, scarcely improved the atmosphere. Genoa and Venice were friendly but similarly ineffectual. Pope Urban and Peter of Cyprus had shot their bolts, and had succeeded only in making themselves look ridiculous. There remained Louis the Great, King of Hungary. He had been prudent enough to withdraw in time from the Egyptian expedition; instead -abhorring, like so many of his co-religionists, schismatics far more than infidels - he had decided to wage a holy war of his own, against not the Turks but the Christian Bulgars. In 1365 the frontier province of Vidin was occupied by a Hungarian army — an occupation which brought in its wake vast numbers of Franciscan missionaries, who immediately set about the more or less forcible conversion of the local inhabitants.
It was hardly the best background against which to conduct diplomatic negotiations. John seems to have thought, however, that Louis might still - in the right circumstances - be persuaded to help him; and he decided to go himself to Hungary. Such a step was absolutely without precedent. Emperors had frequently travelled outside their own frontiers at the head of a conquering army; but never, in all Byzantine history, had a basileus left his capital in the role of petitioner to the Christian West. On the other hand, John might have argued, the situation had never been so desperate. Leaving the Empire in the hands of his eldest son Andronicus, in the first bitter weeks of 1366 he sailed northward along the Black Sea coast and thence up the Danube to Buda, his two younger sons Manuel and Michael accompanying him. King Louis gave him an appropriate welcome; but he had already been in consultation with the Pope, and as soon as discussions began he made his position clear. Conversion must be the first priority. Only after Emperor and Empire had made their submission to Rome could there be any question of military assistance. This time John knew that he could make no definite commitments; even if he had, Louis would probably not have believed him. Leaving both his sons as hostages (though precisely for what is not clear)1 he set off sadly homewards - only to find his way blocked and himself an effective prisoner of the Bulgars, who had been
1 There is no record of how long the two young princes were forced to remain in Buda; we know, however, that both were back in Constantinople in time for the negotiations on Church union which began in June 1367.
not unnaturally alarmed at the prospect of a Byzantine-Hungarian alliance.
Once only in imperial history had an Emperor been captured by a foreign power: Romanus Diogenes, after the battle of Manzikert, almost three centuries before. Romanus, however, had been taken by his Seljuk enemies, treated with consideration and courtesy and freed after a week. John was held by his Christian neighbours, utterly ignored by the Bulgar Tsar John Alexander — who was the father-in-law of his captive's own first-born son Andronicus - and left in a small frontier town for some six months. Such treatment of the one true Emperor of the Romans, Vice-Gerent of God on earth, would have been unthinkable in former days. There could be no more forcible illustration of the depths to which the Empire had sunk. Even when John's release came at last, he owed it not to the Tsar but, surprisingly enough, to his cousin Amadeus of Savoy.
After the failure of the 1365 expedition Amadeus had decided to do a little crusading of his own. In May 1366, with fifteen ships and some 1,700 men, he had sailed from Venice for Constantinople, determined to help his cousin against the Turks. On his arrival at the mouth of the Hellespont he had been joined by the Emperor's brother-in-law Francesco Gattilusio, the Genoese ruler of Lesbos who had married John's sister Maria; and the two immediately launched an attack on Gallipoli - which, after two days' furious fighting, they recaptured. The effect of this victory on Byzantine morale can be easily imagined. For the past twelve years Gallipoli had been the Turkish bridgehead, the first Muslim outpost on the European continent, from which all further advances had begun. Henceforth it would be much more difficult for Murad to send reinforcements to his army in Thrace. Even now, there was much agonized discussion in Constantinople as to whether this Roman Catholic army should be allowed entry into the city; thanks largely to the persuasive powers of Demetrius Cydones, however, on 2 September the gates were finally opened.
It was probably at this point only - unless he had previously heard the news from Gattilusio - that Amadeus learned of his cousin's captivity. He spent a month in preparation, then sailed up the Black Sea coast, occupying the ports of Mesembria and Sozopolis in the name of the Empire and laying siege to Varna, whence he sent an ultimatum to the Tsar at Trnovo. Possessing as he did so valuable a hostage, we may wonder why John Alexander did not demand the restitution of the captured ports as the Emperor's ransom; but Bulgaria's military and economic position was by now so weak that Amadeus would almost certainly have called his bluff. Finally the Tsar gave his authority for the Emperor to cross his territory, and John reached the camp of the Count of Savoy at Mesembria just before Christmas. The two remained together on the coast throughout the winter; not undl the spring of 1367 did they return to Constantinople.
Why, it may be asked, did they delay so long? Above all, because they had serious business to discuss. The Count of Savoy was by now desperately short of funds. Gallipoli, Mesembria and Sozopolis needed substantial garrisons if they were to remain in Byzantine hands; and such garrisons were expensive, in men as well as money. It seemed to Amadeus only reasonable that the Empire should make at least some contribution to their upkeep, as well as providing soldiers for another Bulgarian campaign. And there was another matter, still more important, to be raised. In return for the Pope's blessing on his expedition, Amadeus had sworn to take up once again the cause of Church union and had actually brought with him a papal envoy in the person of Paul, the former Bishop of Smyrna who had recently been elevated to the titular rank of Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. Preliminary discussions on so delicate an issue were obviously far better held away from the hothouse atmosphere of the capital.
By the time he reached the Bosphorus, John's mind was made up. He could not commit his subjects — and still less his Church - to union: were he even to attempt to do so, they would almost certainly depose him. But he could himself make a personal submission to Rome; and at the same time he could arrange for high-level discussions between Paul and the Orthodox leaders, in the hopes that they too would eventually come to see the desirability of healing the breach which had cut them off for so long. Even this was to prove difficult enough, Patriarch Philotheus1 categorically refusing to have any dealings with a man who pretended to his own title. He raised no objection, however, when John appointed his father-in-law, the monk Joasaph - formerly the Emperor John Cantacuzenus, of whom the Patriarch had always been
1 To avoid confusion it should be explained that the Patriarchs Callistus I and Philotheus (Coccinus) alternated between 1350 and 1376, each holding office for two separate periods. Callistus, an adherent of John V first appointed in 1350, resigned in 1353 (sec p. 319). Philotheus, who supported John VI, succeeded him and continued until John's abdication in 1354. Callistus then look over once again and ruled over the Church until he died in 1363, after which Philotheus returned early the following year and remained in power until his own death in 1376.
an enthusiastic champion - to represent the Orthodox Church in his stead.
This appointment is not so surprising as might appear. For centuries it was assumed that John Cantacuzenus spent the years after his abdication in strict monastic seclusion, immersed in his theological studies and emerging only at rare intervals when an imperial summons had to be obeyed. In fact, however - and particularly after the restoration of his old friend Philotheus to the Patriarchal throne in 1364 - he seems to have played an increasingly important role in state affairs. Philotheus himself describes him as being 'a pillar of the government, its greatest counsellor, and a virtual father to the imperial family',1 suggesting that by this time he may well have possessed power - or at least influence - not far short of that which he had enjoyed during his years as Emperor.
The discussions began in June 1367. From the Byzantine point of view, they were remarkably successful. John Cantacuzenus pointed out that unity was the devout wish of the Eastern Church just as much as it was of the Western; but the existing differences could be settled only by means of a truly ecumenical council, to be attended by Pope, Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops from both sides - and this had never been acceptable to Rome. There was, he emphasized, no other way. As Michael VIII had so tragically demonstrated nearly a hundred years before, union could not be unilaterally imposed from above; the Emperor had no control over the souls of his subjects. Paul, it appears, took some persuading; but in the end he agreed to a council such as had been proposed, to be held at Constantinople within two years. Meanwhile he himself would return to the West, together with Count Amadeus and representatives of the Orthodox clergy, both pastoral and monastic, who would constitute a sort of advance guard in expectation of the Emperor's own arrival at a somewhat later date.
Earlier that same year Pope Urban had attempted to move the Papacy back to Rome. The transfer was not a success - soon afterwards, at the insistence of the French cardinals, he was obliged to return to Avignon, where the papal court was to remain until 1377 - but it was to Italy, not France, that the Byzantine delegation travelled that summer, being received by Urban in Viterbo, where they were given a warm welcome. Thence they accompanied him to Rome - sad, impoverished and half-ruined as it was - and were present at his formal entry into the
1 Antirrhetici libri XII contra Gregoram, cd.J. P. Migne, M.P.G., Vol. cli, quoted by J. W. Barker, Manuel II Palaeologus, p. 37.
city on 16 October. From that moment on, however, they grew more and more depressed. The Patriarch Paul, it soon became clear, had been speaking in Constantinople without instructions. Urban had no intention whatever of calling, let alone personally attending, an ecumenical council: what, he asked, could be the purpose of debating matters of faith which had already been established beyond question by the authority of the Holy See? On 6 November he signed twenty-three separate letters, addressed to all those in high authority who might be interested in Church union, stressing the importance of the Byzantines' return to the fold and of the Emperor's promised visit to Rome in person. Not one of the letters mentioned a council, even as a remote possibility. Still less was there any question of an international Crusade of the kind for which John Palaeologus had hoped.
But John kept his promise. Once again leaving his eldest son - now crowned co-Emperor as Andronicus IV - as Regent in Constantinople, he set off in the early summer of 1369, accompanied by a suite consisting of his brother-in-law Francesco Gattilusio, Demetrius Cydones and a few other of his subjects whose sympathies were openly pro-Western -but including not a single member of the Orthodox hierarchy, which had refused to a man to have anything to do with a visit that it could hardly bear to contemplate. Landing in Naples, he spent a few days as guest of the Queen of Sicily, recovering from the voyage and preparing for whatever discussions might lie in store; he then sailed on to Rome, where Urban joined him shortly afterwards. There, on Thursday, 18 October, he formally signed a document declaring his acceptance of the Catholic faith and his submission to the Holy Roman Church and its father the Pope, sealing it with his imperial golden seal; and the following Sunday, in the presence of the entire Curia, he did obeisance to the Supreme Pontiff on the steps of St Peter's, kneeling before him and kissing him on the feet, hands and finally the lips. High Mass followed in the Basilica.
The deed was done. It remained, however, an individual act -personally binding on the Emperor but on no one else. There was no question of any union of the two Churches, which remained as far apart as ever they had been; nor of any ecumenical council, nor of any military assistance against the Turks. Apart from a dangerous weakening of his own position in Constantinople, the public self-abasement of the one true Emperor of the Romans had achieved nothing. And - had John Palaeologus but known it - there was a further and infinitely greater humiliation ahead.
For some time now the Emperor had been in correspondence with Andrea Contarini, Doge of Venice. The Most Serene Republic, wrote the Doge, was fully aware of the Empire's present financial embarrassments; he felt it however only proper to mention the imperial crown jewels, pawned by the Empress Anne in 1343 against a loan of 30,000 ducats, the interest on which was rapidly increasing. If they were not redeemed in the near future, the Republic would have no choice but to sell them. There was also the matter of compensation for the damage done to Venetian property in Constantinople: 25,663 hyperpyra, of which only 4,500 had so far been paid. In his reply John had again explained the nature of his difficulties and pleaded for understanding - not altogether unsuccessfully, since he was rewarded while in Rome by a letter renewing the Venetian-Byzantine treaty, which had expired two years before, for another five years from February 1370, allowing the damages claim to be paid in annual instalments and agreeing to retain the crown jewels for a further period in the Treasury of St Mark's. Contarini did however suggest that the Emperor might like to call at Venice on his homeward journey, in order that the two of them might discuss the outstanding problems in a friendly manner.
Leaving Rome in March 1370 and making another brief stop in Naples, the imperial squadron was in Venice by early May. In normal circumstances this first-ever visit by a Byzantine Emperor to the Serenissima would have been celebrated with a degree of magnificence of which no other state was capable; but Byzantium's reputation was gone. Although John put on as good a show as he could, there was no concealing the fact that he and his Empire were heavily in debt; and the Venetians had little respect for poverty. He was received coolly, and with the minimum of ceremony. When Emperor and Doge settled down to talk, however, the atmosphere improved; for John immediately made the Venetians an offer which he knew that they could not refuse. For many years they had had their eye on the island of Tenedos at the entrance to the Hellespont. This he now proposed to cede, in return for a Venetian undertaking not only to return the crown jewels but to provide him with six war galleys and 25,000 ducats in cash - 4,000 payable at once, since by this time he had revealed that he did not actually have enough money to get home.
The Doge was happy to agree; but then came disaster. The Genoese colony in Constantinople, appalled at the prospect of so valuable a prize falling into the hands of their arch-rivals, put pressure on the Regent Andronicus; and Andronicus refused outright to give up the island. With the agreement that he had so recently made now null and void, John found himself in an impossible position. Lacking sufficient funds to enable him to leave the lagoon, he was effectively a prisoner in Venice. He sent a desperate appeal to his son, suggesting that he might sell some ecclesiastical property or even Church treasures to secure his release; but Andronicus professed himself shocked by so impious a suggestion and raised not a finger to help him. Deliverance finally came through John's second son Manuel, whom he had recently appointed Governor of Thessalonica. Leaving the city in the depths of winter, Manuel hastened along the snow-covered Via Egnatia with gold and treasure enough to secure his father's release, as well as to provide collateral for a further loan. Thanks to him and to him alone, John was able to leave Venice in March 1371 with 30,000 ducats, together with provisions for his homeward journey. It took him seven months. He reached his capital only at the end of October, after a two-year absence during which, despite his conversion to the Roman Catholic faith, he had achieved precisely nothing.
There was more bad news awaiting him. The Turks in Europe, realizing that they were not yet ready to attack Constantinople, had wheeled about and advanced into Macedonia. King Vukashin — the most powerful of the Serbian rulers among whom the Empire of Stephen Dushan was now divided - and his brother John Uglesha, Despot of Serres, had hurriedly mobilized a joint force and marched to meet them; and on 26 September 1371 the two armies had met at Chernomen on the river Maritsa, some twenty miles west of Adrianople. It was the first pitched battle since the Turkish invasion of Europe; and it ended in the total destruction of the Serbian army. Both Vukashin and John Uglesha were killed, and the river ran red with the blood of their slaughtered followers.
Here was a disaster not only for the Serbs, but for Byzantium and indeed for the whole of Christendom. No longer was there any barrier to keep the invaders from overrunning Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. The few surviving members of the Serbian nobility were not altogether dispossessed; henceforth, however, they would be mere vassals of their Turkish overlords, bound to recognize the suzerainty of the Ottoman Sultan (as Murad now styled himself), to pay him tribute and - the ultimate humiliation — to lend him military assistance on demand. Curiously enough, one of these vassals — Vukashin's son Marko Kralyevich1 - was to become the greatest of Serbian folk heroes, whose name is still remembered and regularly invoked during his people's all-too-frequent periods of military crisis.2
Where Byzantium itself was concerned, there was one small consolation: Manuel Palaeologus had taken advantage of the situation by riding out from his base at Thessalonica and occupying the territories of Uglesha, including the city of Serres itself. But he was not to hold them for long, and meanwhile his father had been obliged by the steadily worsening financial situation to appropriate one half of the monastic property in what was left of the Empire. It was made clear to the monasteries that their lands would be returned to them if the situation improved; but the situation did not improve. On the contrary, the government was soon afterwards forced to take still more stringent measures, while John himself became progressively more defeatist. By 1573 he had become a Turkish vassal, as had the Bulgarian Tsar; thus it was that within twenty years of the first permanent Ottoman settlement on European soil, the three chief powers in the Balkan peninsula were all dependencies of the Sultan.
Since contemporary sources, such as they are, are silent on the subject, the terms of John V's compact with Murad are not altogether clear. Negotiations between them seem to have begun towards the end of 1372, about a year after the Emperor's return, and to have reached fruition two or three months later. John's motive was probably sheer despair. With the Turks in control of both Serbia and Bulgaria, any effective Crusade - always unlikely - was impossible. Byzantium, now completely cut off by land from the West, could no longer put up even a show of resistance. Only by joining forces with the Sultan could John perhaps hope to save something from the wreckage of his Empire. Murad might at least bring the wandering bands of Turkish marauders in Macedonia and Thrace under some sort of control; he might also
The Serbian language is unique among those using the Cyrillic script in having a recognized letter-for-letter system of transliteration, since Croatian - which is essentially the same tongue, as close as American is to English - uses the Latin alphabet. It might therefore be more scholarly to use this system for Serbian proper names; but this would mean writing Dusan, Ugljesa, Kraljevic, etc., which the average reader would find a lot more bewildering.
'Prodigiously strong, he carried for weapon a mace weighing sixty pounds of iron, thirty pounds of silver and nine pounds of gold. His horse, Piebald, was the fleetest in the world and understood the human tongue; and from one side of its saddle swung the mace and from the other a counterweight of red wine in a skin, for Marko was a hard drinker though he was never drunk.' Rebecca West,Black Lamb and Grey Fa/con, Vol. ii, pp. 167-8.
strengthen John's own hand against his son Andronicus, who was causing him increasing anxiety.
But vassalage also involved disagreeable duties; and in May 1373 — within a few months of the signing of the agreement - John found himself in Anatolia, campaigning at the Sultan's side. This in itself must have been humiliation enough; but soon word reached him from the capital that Andronicus (who probably resented his father's growing attachment to Manuel) had taken advantage of his absence to come out in open revolt - allying himself, curiously enough, with Murad's own discontented son Sauji, who had also taken up arms against his father. Fortunately the insurrection was unsuccessful: the rebels were both quickly brought to heel. The furious Sultan had Sauji blinded - the wretched youth died soon after - and demanded that the Emperor insist on a similar penalty, both for Andronicus and his young son, who had taken no part in the revolt. John, much as he hated the brutality, knew that he could not refuse; he did, however, secretly arrange for some mercy to be shown to the victims. They did not entirely lose their sight but were imprisoned in Constantinople, Andronicus being formally deprived of his right to the succession. His position as heir-apparent was taken by Manuel, now twenty-three years old, who was hastily summoned from Thessalonica and, on 25 September, crowned co-Emperor.
Only three years later, John had cause to regret his forbearance. In March 1376, a squadron of ten Venetian ships arrived in Constantinople, carrying ambassadors from the Doge. With Andronicus out of the way, they pointed out, there was no reason why the agreement reached in Venice six years before should not now be implemented. In return for the cession of Tenedos, the Venetians were willing to make a further payment of 30,000 ducats and to return the crown jewels. They would also guarantee freedom of worship to the population of the island, whose Greek element would remain under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Finally, they promised, the imperial standard would continue to fly over the island, alongside the banner of St Mark.
John Palaeologus was only too happy to agree; as was to be expected, however, the Genoese colony in Constantinople felt very differently. Once again, they were determined to prevent the passing of Tenedos into Venetian hands; once again, their thoughts turned to their ally Andronicus. In July 1376 they somehow contrived to engineer his escape from prison. Ferried secretly across to Galata, he made contact with Murad, who — perhaps surprisingly in the circumstances - provided him with a mixed force of cavalry and infantry; then, after a month's siege, he bludgeoned his way into the capital. John and the rest of his family were able to hold out for a few days in the fortress of the Golden Gate, but they were soon forced to surrender; Andronicus had the pleasure of consigning them to the dungeons in the Tower of Anemas1 that he himself had so recently left. One of his first actions after his assumption of power - it had probably been a condition of his escape -was to make a formal grant of Tenedos to Genoa. A year later, on 18 October 1577, he had himself crowned as Andronicus IV and his little son as his co-Emperor, John VII.
But the Genoese never received their reward. The Byzantine Governor of Tenedos refused to surrender the island to them - though he was happy to yield it shortly afterwards to the Venetians, who immediately sent a fleet to claim what they understandably believed was their due. To show his good faith, Andronicus was obliged to support a Genoese attempt to recover it by force - 'for which purpose', wrote Demetrius Cydones, 'he is preparing munitions and ships and is compelled to hire soldiers, a thing which is for him more difficult than flying'2 - but the attempt was predictably unsuccessful. Sultan Murad was more fortunate. He had no love for Andronicus, for whom he had only recently recommended blinding; and he had supported him in his later insurrection on one condition, which was immediately fulfilled - the restitution of Gallipoli, captured by Amadeus of Savoy ten years before. By the end of 1377 this all-important bridgehead was once again in his possession; once again his dominions in Europe were united with those in Asia Minor, immeasurably strengthening his position for the next stage of his advance.
The captive Emperors, father and son, languished for three years in the Tower of Anemas. How they regained their liberty is not entirely clear. The initiative seems to have been their own, although it is possible that the Venetians were implicated in much the same way as the Genoese had assisted the escape of Andronicus. In any case they somehow managed to escape across the Bosphorus to the only refuge available to them, Murad's camp near Chrysopolis. Once there, Manuel - who seems to have done the negotiating - promised the Sultan, in return for the reinstatement of himself and his father, an increased tribute, additional
1The ruins of this building, which had been one of the city's darkest and most dreaded prisons since the days of Alexius Comnenus three hundred years before, still survive at the northern end of the Land Walls, where it adjoined the Palace of Blachernae.
2Letters, No. 167. Quoted (as is the epigraph to this chapter, which is taken from the same letter) by Professor Nicol, op. cit., pp. 290-91.
military assistance as necessary and, most humiliating of all, the city of Philadelphia, the last remaining Byzantine outpost in Asia Minor. Agreement was quickly reached. The Turks provided an army; the Venetians, only too happy to be rid of the incurably pro-Genoese Andronicus, sent a small fleet; and on i July 1379 John V and Manuel II re-entered their capital by the Charisius Gate. Andronicus fled in his turn - to his Genoese friends in Galata, taking with him as hostages his mother the Empress Helena and her father the monk Joasaph, the former John VI, both of whom he suspected of complicity in arranging for John's and Manuel's escape.
For the next year there was civil war between John and Andronicus, Constantinople and Galata - supported respectively by the Venetians and the Genoese. The Sultan's position was more doubtful: ostensibly he too backed the legitimate Emperors, but it was greatly in his own interest to see the Byzantines divided among themselves, and he may well have given covert help to Andronicus from time to time, if only to keep the hostilities going. The fortress of Galata suffered a long and painful siege, and the fighting continued for nearly two years: not until April 1381 did the warring factions reach an agreement. By its terms Andronicus was reinstated as heir to the throne, with his son John to succeed him, and meanwhile granted a small appanage on the northern coast of the Marmara with its capital at Selymbria and including the cities of Panidus, Rhaedestum and Heraclea.
Manuel was away on campaign with Murad at the time that this agreement was reached, and his reaction to it is not recorded. He more than anyone had deserved well of his father: he had bought him - and brought him - back from Venice, shared his captivity in Constantinople and, in marked contrast to his brother, had always fought loyally at his side. Having been formally granted the right of succession eight years previously, he had good reason to resent its withdrawal, particularly in such circumstances. But he was anyway angry, unable to forgive his father's craven defeatism. He was perfectly prepared to fight, if he had to, for the Sultan against Murad's Muslim enemies in Anatolia; but he refused absolutely to accept the Turkish claim to the Balkan peninsula, which he still believed it was possible to defend. In the autumn of 1382 he returned to Thessalonica - no longer, however, as Governor in John's name but defiantly, as an Emperor in his own right, determined to have no more truck with this constant family bickering which served only to waste men, money and materials that should have been employed against the infidel invaders. It was fortunate indeed for him when - after one last insurrection against his father - the insufferable Andronicus IV died in June 1385, leaving him once again the legitimate co-inheritor of what was left of Byzantium.
The year 13 81, that had seen the end of this most recent outbreak of internecine strife, also brought to a close another, longer conflict - that between Venice and Genoa. Starting with the dispute over Tenedos, this contest had soon become generalized; and its last round had been fought on Italian soil and in Italian waters - the Tyrrhenian, the Adriatic and even in the Venetian lagoon itself. By now, however, the heat had gone out of the war, and the two exhausted republics gratefully accepted the offer of Count Amadeus of Savoy to mediate. Neither had won; after four years of devastation and bloodshed, both found themselves politically very much where they had been before - a situation confirmed by the Treaty of Turin, signed on 23 August, which provided for the continuation of trade in the Mediterranean and the Levant by both republics side by side. As for Tenedos, it would be neutral ground, its fortifications razed, its population transferred to Crete and Euboea, its neutrality guaranteed by Amadeus himself. Finally, as an earnest of their good intentions, both Venice and Genoa promised to do everything in their power to bring about the conversion of the Roman Empire to the Catholic Faith.
But what was this Empire? If the truth be told, it was in fact no longer an Empire at all. Rather was it a group of four small states, ruled by four so-called Emperors and a Despot. After 1383 each of these was a member of the house of Palaeologus, but each remained effectively independent of the other three, if not of his Turkish overlords. John V continued to reign in Constantinople, though now as a vassal of the Ottoman Sultan and as little more than a plaything of Venice and Genoa; Andronicus IV - until his death - with his son and co-Emperor John VII, both of them still more dependent on Turkish favour, ruled over the north shore of the Marmara; Manuel II governed Thessalonica; while Theodore I, John V's fourth son, held sway over the Despotate of the Morea, with his capital at Mistra.
This last appointment needs a little explanation. For over thirty years southern Greece had been administered, with signal success, by John VI's son Manuel Cantacuzenus; but when Manuel had died without issue in 1380 John V had decided to appoint his son Theodore in his place. The old ex-Emperor, who was still recovering from the privations he had suffered as a hostage during the long and arduous siege of Galata, had raised no objection, and had even decided to settle at Mistra himself;1 but one of his grandsons, who regarded the Despotate as his family's legal appanage, had enlisted the help of both the Turks and the local Latin princes to fight for it on his behalf. Eventually Theodore had managed to establish himself as ruler, though he too was obliged to accept Turkish vassalage; and from that time forward he was to make the Morea the strongest and most prosperous bastion of a tottering Byzantium.
On all other fronts, that Empire was disintegrating fast. From his base at Thessalonica Manuel Palaeologus, still in pursuit of his dream of re-establishing Byzantine authority over Macedonia and Thessaly, was fighting a determined rearguard action, and in the summer and autumn of 1383 scored several encouraging victories against the invaders - so encouraging indeed as to cause his terrified father serious embarrassment in his diplomatic dealings with the Sultan. But such triumphs were of little real value against the Ottoman flood. Advancing up the Vardar river, a formidable force of Turks - swelled now by many regiments from the conquered Christian lands - had already captured Ochrid and Prilep in 1380 before pushing north-west into Albania. Further to the east, another of Murad's armies overran Bulgaria, taking Sardica in 1385 and advancing in the following year as far as Nish. In 1386 the monasteries of Mount Athos also made their joint submission to the Sultan. There remained only Thessalonica, and Thessalonica itself was now in grave danger. Serres, a mere seventy miles away, had fallen in September 1383, and as soon as its conquerors had had enough of the rapine and plunder that followed their conquest it was inevitable that they should have turned their attention to the last great Christian city that stood between themselves and Constantinople. In mid-October the Turkish general Khaireddin - 'Torch of the Faith' - who was also the Sultan's Grand Vizier, issued an ultimatum to the Thessalonians: surrender or massacre. Manuel Palaeologus acted at once. Summoning his subjects to an assembly in the main square he exhorted them, in a long and moving speech, to resist the infidel with all the strength at their command; then he began work on the defences.
Thessalonica had survived so long only because Murad's lack of naval power had made it impossible for him to set up an effective blockade. Nothing, therefore, would have been easier for the princes of Christian Europe than to have sent the beleaguered city reinforcements and
1 It was there that he was to die, aged seventy-eight, on 15 June 1383.
supplies by sea. Had they done so it could have survived almost indefinitely, and Manuel and Theodore together might even have united northern Greece and saved it from the Sultan. But no help came, and as the months went by the Emperor saw that he was gradually losing the support of his own people, more and more of whom began openly advocating surrender. Despite this widespread defeatism he managed to hold out for three and a half years; but with the coming of spring in 1387 the general morale had sunk to the point where it was plain that continued resistance was impossible. He himself however still refused to submit; and on 6 April, cursing the Thessalonians for their fecklessness and pusillanimity, he sailed away to Lesbos and left them to their fate. Three days later they opened the gates, thereby escaping the bloodshed and pillage which they would inevitably have suffered had they fought on to the end.
The three years that followed the fall of Thessalonica were perhaps the saddest of Manuel's life. His great campaign had failed; he had been betrayed by his Thessalonian subjects; his father's policy of appeasement had been proved right. A further humiliation awaited him at Lesbos, where Francesco Gattilusio refused to allow him entrance to the city of Mitylene and he and his followers were obliged to pitch their camp in the fields, under the scorching summer sun. From there he moved on to another scarcely more hospitable island - probably Tenedos - and thence, at the instigation of a Turkish embassy sent specially to him with messages of friendship, to the Ottoman court at Brusa. His first encounter with the Sultan since the failure of his campaign in Serbia and Macedonia and the loss of Thessalonica must have been painful indeed, marking as it did his own admission of defeat and the end of all his hopes for a successful Christian counter-offensive in the Balkans. But Murad gave him a warm welcome and showed him every courtesy, pressing him insistently to return to Constantinople and make his peace with his father.
Now that Manuel had given up the struggle, there was indeed no reason why the two Emperors should not settle their differences; but John V - whose only aim was to keep the Sultan well-disposed towards Byzantium in general and himself in particular - had been badly frightened by his son's disobedience and was determined that he must do some sort of penance before there could be any formal reconciliation. He therefore banished Manuel to the island of Lemnos; and Manuel - who was exhausted, deeply demoralized and anyway had nowhere else to go - seems to have accepted the sentence without complaint.
Manuel Palaeologus was still in exile on Lemnos when, in the summer of 1389, the Serbs made their last heroic attempt to shake off the Ottoman yoke. After the disaster on the Maritsa it had seemed impossible that they should ever fight as a nadon again; and yet, weakened and divided as they now were, with the glorious if short-lived Empire of Stephen Dushan no more than a distant memory, a league of Serbian boyars gathered together under the leadership of a certain Prince Lazar Hrebelianovich, who had seized control of northern Serbia after the death of Stephen Urosh V in 1371, to resist the Turkish advance. It included Vuk Brankovich, ruler of the southern district of Kosovo, and was later also joined by Tvrrko, Prince of Bosnia. Between 1386 and 1388, after the Sultan had been obliged to return to Anatolia, this league had proved remarkably successful, defeating the Turks in a number of skirmishes and even in one or two pitched battles. But in 1389 Murad was back in the Balkans, with several new regiments brought with him from Asia; and in the early summer he advanced on the plain of Kosovo, 'the field of blackbirds'.
The battle that followed on 15 June has entered Serbian folklore, and has inspired, in The Kosovo Cycle, one of the greatest of all medieval epics; Tsar Lazar - as he is always known - has joined Marko Kralyevich as a hero of national legend. The true story, however, in so far as it can be disentangled from that legend, is not particularly edifying. Serbian morale was low. The princes were in disagreement among themselves, and treason was widely hinted at: Lazar himself, in a speech on the eve of the battle, openly accused his own son-in-law, Milosh Obravich, of working for the enemy. Murad, on the other hand, though he spent much of the night in prayer, was so confident of victory that he had ordered that all castles, towns and villages in the region should be spared; the castles he would need later, and he had no wish to antagonize his future subjects unnecessarily.
Next morning, the Sultan drew up his army in its usual order. He himself commanded the centre, with his crack regiment of Janissaries and his personal guard of cavalry; on the right was his elder son Bayezit with the European troops, on the left his younger son Yakub with the regiments from Asia. To begin with, fortune was against them. Ignoring an initial advance by two thousand Turkish archers, the Serbian cavalry launched a massive charge that broke through the Turkish left flank. But Bayezit immediately swung round and urged his men at full gallop to the rescue, laying about him to left and right with his heavy iron mace. After this counter-attack, the Turks gradually gained the upper hand - though it was only after Vuk Brankovich fled the field towards the end of the day, taking with him twelve thousand of his men, that the surviving Serbs finally broke up in disorder and fled.
Whether or not Brankovich's treachery was the result of a secret compact with the Sultan will never be known; if there was one, Murad never lived to reveal it. Just how he met his death is also uncertain; it seems, however, to have been the work of Milosh Obravich, furious at the aspersions which had been publicly cast upon him by his father-in-law and determined to prove his loyalty. According to the most probable version of the story, he pretended to desert to the enemy and was brought before Murad; he made his formal obeisance and then, before the guard could prevent him, plunged a long dagger twice into the Sultan's breast — with such force, we are told, that the blade emerged at the back. He was immediately set upon and dispatched in his turn, but the deed was done. Murad's last act was to summon Lazar - who had been taken prisoner at an earlier stage in the battle - and condemn him to execution.
The report of the Sultan's murder spread to the West, where the battle was consequently at first thought to have ended in a major victory for Christendom; in Paris, a week or two later, King Charles VI went so far as to order a service of thanksgiving in Notre-Dame. Gradually, however, as more reports filtered through, the tragic truth became known. The Turks, under the brilliant leadership of their new Sultan, had carried the day; the Serbian army had been utterly destroyed. Of the few Serbian nobles who survived - they included Lazar's son Stephen Lazarevich - each was obliged to swear a personal oath of fealty to Bayezit. But the Serbian nation, even in its fragmented form, was no more. It was to be over four hundred years before it arose again.
Had Tsar Lazar and his fellow-boyars been able to unite seven years earlier, had they appealed to Manuel Palaeologus for assistance and had Manuel decided to throw in everything he had on one last heroic bid to stop the infidel once and for all, might the battle of Kosovo have ended differently? It is possible, but unlikely - and unlikelier still that even a victory for Christendom at that time and that place would have had any lasting effect on the future of the Balkan peninsula. In a year or two at the most the Turks would have been back, better armed, better provisioned and in greater numbers than before. Their manpower was virtually limitless: new regiments could be summoned from Anatolia in a matter of weeks, and even in Europe there were plenty of Christian mercenaries ready and willing to march against their co-religionists for good pay and a chance of plunder. The harsh truth was that, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Ottoman armies were virtually unconquerable by anything less than a concerted European Crusade; and that such a Crusade, though frequently proposed and discussed, was never to come into being. Against so formidable a force, the Christian East had no hope; we can only wonder that it lasted as long as it did.
Bayezit's very first action, after his proclamation as Sultan on the field of Kosovo, had been to order the death of his brother and fellow-commander Yakub. Sentence was immediately carried out; the young Prince was garrotted with a bowstring. He had shown great courage in the battle and was much loved by his men, but for Bayezit these qualities only increased the likelihood of his one day stirring up sedition. Thus was instituted the terrible tradition of imperial fratricide - to be codified into law by Bayezit's great-grandson Mehmet II - which for the next three centuries was indelibly to stain the history of the Ottoman ruling house.1
The Sultan had started as he meant to go on. A man of almost superhuman energy, impetuous and unpredictable, as quick in taking decisions as he was in implementing them and utterly merciless to all who stood in his way, it was not for nothing that he was known by his subjects as Yildirim,the Thunderbolt. During his thirteen-year reign he was to prove himself an astute diplomat, as his father had been before him; but for Bayezit, unlike Murad, diplomacy had little instinctive appeal. He thought in terms of conquest, and of Empire. The simple title of Sultan was not enough; he now styled himself Sultan of Rum, the ancient formula that had been adopted by the Seljuk emirs three hundred years before to assert their dominion over 'Roman' Anatolia. To Bayezit however 'Rum' signified something more than it had to Alp Arslan and his successors. No longer did it mean simply the former Byzantine territories in Asia Minor; it now included the Second Rome itself - the city of Constantinople.
And - fortunately for the new Sultan - Constantinople was still torn between rival factions within the imperial family. The senior Emperor John V was still reigning from the Palace of Blachernae, and the
1 To give but one example: Sultan Mehmet III, on his accession in 1595, had no fewer than nineteen of his brothers strangled, together with six pregnant slaves, their favourites from the harem. (Later he also killed his mother and his son, but that was not part of the tradition.)
unspeakable Andronicus IV was in his grave; but Andronicus's detestation of his father was fully shared by his own son John VII - who, having been careful to maintain the dynastic claims he had inherited, was at the time of the Kosovo battle actually in Genoa drumming up support for another insurrection. Returning shortly afterwards to the capital, he found messengers awaiting him from Bayezit; and on the night of 13 April 1390, with the aid of a small force put at his disposal by the Sultan, he succeeded in overturning John V for the second time, making his triumphal entry into the city the following morning. Once again the Emperor - together with Manuel, whom he had summoned back from Lemnos just a fortnight before, and a number of loyal followers - barricaded himself into the fortress of the Golden Gate1 and, in an unwonted display of courage, settled down to withstand a siege.
Manuel, however, slipped away to seek assistance. His first two attempts to rescue his father were unsuccessful, but on 25 August he appeared with two galleys lent by the Knights of St John from their base in Rhodes, one each from Lemnos, Christopolis and (somewhat surprisingly) Constantinople, and four other smaller vessels of unknown provenance. Fortunately the Golden Gate stronghold was only a few yards from the Marmara, and possessed its own harbour into which the little fleet had no difficulty in forcing its way. Fighting continued for the next three weeks, but on Saturday, 17 September the old Emperor and his men made a sudden sally, taking his grandson completely off his guard and driving him out of the city.
Fully reconciled at last, John and Manuel returned triumphantly to the Palace of Blachernae. There was, however, a price to be paid for their success. The Sultan, away in Anatolia, looked upon the failure of his attempt to install John VII on the throne as not so much a political reverse as a personal insult. Furious, he demanded that Manuel should immediately join him on campaign, bringing with him all the tribute that was by now owing. A similar summons was sent to John VII, with whom he was almost as angry. In the circumstances the two men, despite their mutual detestation, could only obey; nor, that same autumn, could they refuse the Sultan's orders to take part in the siege of Philadelphia. And so it was that not one but two Emperors of the Romans found themselves directly instrumental in enforcing the
1 This probably formed the nucleus of the Fortress of the Seven Towers (Yedikule), which was much enlarged by Mehme II after the conquest of the city and of which the ruins still stand today.
capitulation of the last surviving Byzantine stronghold in Asia Minor.1 Of all the many humiliations inflicted on the dying Empire, this was surely the most ironical.
Soon afterwards Bayezit sent John V another still more peremptory ultimatum. The fortress of the Golden Gate - which, in the previous year, had saved his crown if not his life - was to be demolished. Failure to obey would result in the immediate imprisonment and blinding of Manuel, who was still being held at the Sultan's camp. Once again the poor Emperor had no choice but to comply; it was, however, the last indignity that he was called upon to suffer. With the coming of winter he retired to his private apartments, where he took to his bed and turned his face to the wall. He died on 16 February 1391, aged fifty-eight.
He had reigned as basileus - if we date that reign from his coronation in November 1341 - just a few months short of half a century, the longest reign of any Emperor in the eleven-hundred-year history of Byzantium. Even if we consider it to have begun only after the abdication of John Cantacuzenus in 1354, it had lasted nearly thirty-seven years, a period matched by Alexius I and Manuel I Comnenus but exceeded only by his great-grandfather Andronicus II and by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in the tenth century. It was, by any standards, too long. At one of the most desperate moments of its history, the Empire was governed by a ruler who was neither intelligent nor far-sighted, and who possessed virtually none of those qualities necessary to a successful statesman. Already as early as 1355, when he had made his extraordinary proposals to Pope Innocent, he had shown a barely credible lack of political understanding; thereafter, again and again, we find him giving way to the sudden impulse, almost always with disastrous results. Would any of his predecessors, one wonders, have decided to embark on a vitally important diplomatic mission to Hungary - involving a long and arduous journey in mid-winter - without taking any advance soundings as to how he would be received or what were his chances of success? Would any but he have sailed so impetuously off to Venice, fully aware that he was heavily in debt to the Republic but apparently oblivious of the fact that if the negotiations failed he would not even have enough money to return home? Did any other have to be rescued on four separate occasions - once on the Bulgarian border, once in Venice and twice in his own capital of Constantinople? Such humiliations as these,
1 See p. 339. Had John V and Manuel retracted their promise of 1378? Or had the people of Philadelphia simply refused to submit to the Sultan? We shall never know.
largely self-inflicted as they were, brought John not so much pity as ridicule - and did his reputation far more harm in the eyes of Western Europe than those which he suffered at the hands of the Ottoman Sultan.
John V's passive obedience to his Turkish suzerains forms a dramatic contrast, too, to the aggressive policies of his early years. By the end, admittedly, he was powerless: unable even to protest against the treatment accorded to him, far less to resist it. And yet — the issue cannot be altogether avoided — did his record have to be quite so unedifying? Could he not have sent a regiment or two to support those gallant Serbs who fought, so bravely and against such odds, at the Maritsa and on the plains of Kosovo? Of course not, he might have replied, and anyway look what happened to them; was this really the time for suicidal heroics? And was he not in any case the sworn vassal of the Sultan? The argument is unanswerable, but the questions persist: how would Basil the Macedonian have dealt with the situation, or his namesake the Bulgar-Slayer? What would Alexius Comnenus have done in similar circumstances, or his son John II, or even Michael Palaeologus? Would they all have been as craven as John V?
Somehow, one feels, they would not. Would they, on the other hand, have left the Empire in any better state? It seems improbable. By the last decade of the fourteenth century the Ottoman conquest of eastern Europe and Asia Minor had acquired a momentum that it was no longer possible to check. Of the Sultan's Christian enemies, Serbia and Bulgaria had been effectively annihilated. Only Byzantium remained; but it was a Byzantium so reduced, so impoverished, so humiliated and demoralized as to be scarcely identifiable as the glorious Empire of the Romans that it had once been. And yet, doomed as it was, it was never to give up the struggle. Three more Christian Emperors were to reign in Constantinople, all three of them men of determination and spirit. Thanks to them, it was to last another six decades — and, at the end, to go down fighting.