History of Europe

The road to Alosis – The Byzantine military defeat in the 14th century.

After the death of Michael Palaiologos and the restoration to the throne of his son, Andronikos II, the empire now entered the final course towards its end. Andronikos had nothing to do with military matters and did not give due importance to the army. However, by around 1300 the Byzantine Army, thanks to worthy generals such as Alexios Philanthropinos, had made its presence felt in the Balkans and Asia Minor. Philanthropinos in the campaign he carried out in 1293-95 in Asia Minor almost destroyed the Ottomans. The Ottoman problem could have been over for Hellenism then, if the warlike Andronikos had not feared the glory of his general and forced him to rebel. After the capture and blinding of Philanthropinos, the Turks simply returned.

It is worth noting that Andronikos sent the blind Philanthropinos to Asia Minor, in 1323, without troops. Such was his reputation that the Turks, when they learned of his departure, retreated for the time being. The campaign of general Ioannis Tarchaniotis (1298-1300) in Asia Minor had a similar development. But again, similar conditions led to similar developments. Tarkhaniotis left, the Turks returned. Andronikos II Paleologos was never an expert on military matters, preferring the cultivation of the spirit.

It is true that the long conflict of the Empire with the French Andeans (of the house of d'Anjou) overlords of Sicily, during the reign of his father, had weakened the state financially. Due to poor finances, but also to eliminate the d'Anjou threat, Andronicus decided to reduce the army and fleet. He therefore disbanded the fleet, dismissing the Tsakones and Gazmuls who made up his crews, and reduced the army to 4,000 men, relying on the recruitment of militiamen and parishioners.

From there, the decline began. According to the learned chronicler of the time Nikiforos Grigoras "...the Roman army has become the laughingstock of the whole world...consisting of craftsmen and merchants whose sole purpose is to put it on its feet, as quickly as possible". strong> The written testimony of an anonymous monk of Magnesia, Asia Minor, in the 14th century, states:"The army is not the old well-organized and disciplined force of the past, but a sylph led by arrogant men who only know how to oppress the weakest from them".

These testimonies, which date back to the first quarter of the 14th century, are indicative of the state of the army during the reign of Andronikos II (1282-1328). The Byzantine Army consisted, until the fall of 1204, of the provincial-thematic troops and the imperial battalions that were stationed in the City and were under the direct disposal of the respective emperor. At the time of the Paleologues, the provincial troops consisted of divisions of Pronoiaria. In Constantinople there were troops, under the control of the central authority, which were better trained. Their ranks included native and mercenary professional soldiers. These troops also include the various units of the Imperial Guard.

The state provided welfare or "savings". A provision was a land lot, made available to a lord or state official, in exchange for military service. The thrifts were the lots cultivated for the benefit of the central government, from the revenues of which the imperial troops were formed. But as the imperial territories shrank, under the pressure of various enemies, in Asia and Europe, the maintenance of the imperial troops became untenable. The same goes for benefits. The loss of the Asia Minor territories had catalytic consequences. Bithynia, Lydia and Magnesia, the only regions of Asia Minor controlled by the Empire at the time of Andronikos II's accession to the throne, were rich provinces and provided the state with large revenues, but also excellent manpower for the army.

The insignificant battle that "created" the Ottoman state

In any case, within only 20 years of the death of Michael VIII the possessions of Asia Minor had, for the most part, been lost to the Empire, with the exception of the fortified cities, which, however, had been blockaded by the Turks and were in a kind of loose state. siege. In 1301, at the battle of Vafeo s, near Nicomedia, the Empire managed to send only 2,000 men to help this great Asia Minor city from the threat of the Ottomans, under the Great Etiariarch George Mouzalon. Half of Muzalone's men were Alan mercenaries. The Turks fielded only 5,000 men in battle. The Byzantines were defeated, as the Alans did not even fight. The losses were not great, as the defeated fled to the fortified Nicomedia.

This battle should not, in theory, be considered important. But it is. According to Turkish historians, it was this victory that "gave birth" to the Ottoman Empire. It was the first victory of the Ottomans against the imperial forces. The easy victory filled the Turks with self-confidence and contempt for the opponent. However, it is indicative both of the weakness of the Byzantines, but also of the Ottomans, who also did not have strong forces. If the Empire had, at that time, 10,000 worthy soldiers the story today would be different. Such was the decline of the Empire that it was able to send only 2,000 men against the Turks to defend the ancient metropolises of Hellenism in Bithynia.

The shameful defeat by the Catalans

Due to this defeat Andronikos II decided to recruit the infamous Catalan Company. The Catalans, after having successfully fought the Turks for a short time, began to plunder enemies and friends indiscriminately. Then they crossed into Europe and plundered the whole of Greece, until they settled in Attica and Boeotia. The Catalans recruited by Andronikos numbered around 5,500 – 6,500 men. And yet so few men – later reinforced with Turkish mercenaries – managed to wreak havoc on the Empire precisely because there was not a sufficiently numerical, well-trained, organized and equipped force to deal with them.

In the battle of Apro, in 1305 Andronikos' son and co-emperor Michael I managed to gather 6,000 men to face around 3,000 Catalans. The Byzantine Army consisted of Alan and Turkish mercenaries, a few Macedonian and Thracian soldiers, militia archers and some Vlach mercenaries. Although he was superior, overwhelmingly, numerically, he was crushed by the experienced Catalans, as his Alan and Turkish mercenaries, after an unsuccessful attack they launched, preferred to leave the battlefield.

Their withdrawal exposed the side of the Byzantine infantry, which, due to their poor training, consisting mostly of conscripted citizens from Thrace, panicked, and instead of turning their front to meet the threat, fled. Finally, only Michael IX remained on the battlefield with 100 elite horsemen. Michael and his 100 men rushed against the Catalans, but could not change the outcome. Michael was injured, in fact, in this phase.

The Battle of Apro, fought near the city of the same name in Eastern Thrace, is one of the most shameful defeats of the Byzantine Army which proved how unreliable the mercenary units were and how tragically untrained the natives were. Especially, regarding Alanus, Andronikos II had allowed the settlement of 16,000 men, women and children, in the Byzantine lands, in exchange for the provision of military service. However, in all the battles they participated in, they proved to be at least unreliable. Their only achievement was the assassination of the Catalan leader Roger de Flor, with all the consequences that this action had.

Damn civil wars

Byzantine sources state that, in 1320, Andronikos II was forced to impose a particularly heavy tax, with the money from which he aspired to form a military force of 3,000 men. Of these, 1,000 would operate in the Asia Minor possessions and the rest in European territories. However, even this was not achieved, as the emperor's plans were overturned by his conflict with his grandson Andronikos III.

The civil war of the Andronikos

During its duration, the Asia Minor possessions were left completely at the mercy of the Turks, while the European possessions also suffered from incursions by Serbs and Bulgarians. The two paleontologists, grandfather and grandson, did not hesitate to use foreigners against each other. So Andronikos II recruited Turks, against his grandson, while Andronikos III received reinforcements of 2,000 men from Bulgaria. And when the Bulgarians felt that the terms of their agreement with Andronikos III were not fulfilled, they did not hesitate to plunder Eastern Thrace.

The conflict between the two Andronikos, as it became known, lasted until 1328, the year of the dethronement of Andronikos II and the recovery, as sole emperor, of Andronikos III, who had previously been crowned co-emperor. While the two Paleologians were fighting for the possession of the throne, the Turks advanced unmolested. In 1326, the Ottoman Turks conquered Bursa, after a 10-year siege, and made it their capital. Having now a stable base, they continued their destructive raids in all the Byzantine regions of Asia Minor.

The second pivotal minor battle

Faced with these developments, the new emperor Andronikos III decided to personally campaign against the Ottomans. The emperor, together with the Great Domestic John Cantacuzinus, crossed into Asia Minor, leading only 2,000 regular soldiers and an unknown number of irregulars. This army, on June 10, 1329, clashed with 8,000 Ottomans under Sultan Orhan. The Turks sent 300 of their light cavalry to harass the Byzantines. The whole day went by in a flurry, without anything of substance. When the Byzantines considered that they had achieved their purpose, which was no other than to carry out a form of military demonstration, they decided to withdraw. But then the Turks attacked them and wounded the emperor in the leg. Andronicus' injury caused confusion and panic.

The next morning the Byzantines, badly – ​​badly, retreated in four phalanxes. The Turks pursued them and caught up with one of them, which they literally destroyed, conquering the Byzantine camp as well. The Battle of Pelekano, as it was named after the nearby fortress of the same name, (also known as the Battle of Philokrine, from the nearby, also small town of the same name) was the second and last attempt of the Byzantines to face the Ottomans on the battlefield. As in the battle of Vafeos, the Byzantines were defeated, as they had only 2,000 actual soldiers, against four times as many Turks. After this defeat, the fate of Asia Minor was sealed.

End of Asia Minor

The Asia Minor populations completely lost their trust in Constantinople and many of the inhabitants of these regions submitted to the Turks and fought on their side. The Turks followed the Byzantine system of welfare, distributing timirs to their vassals, among whom were many converted Byzantines. After the defeat, Andronikos III and his commander-in-chief John Kantakouzenos tried to reorganize the army and partially succeeded. But they did not have the necessary money, as the loss of the Asia Minor territories cost the Empire dearly. Nevertheless, the Byzantine Army had successes in the Balkans against the Bulgarians (Battle of Rosokastro 1332), but still it was evident that the Byzantine Army, due to a small number of men, was not able to successfully defend the borders of the empire.

The devastating civil war

When Andronikos III died and the civil war broke out between John Kantakouzenos and the commissioners of John V Paleologus (basilomitor Anne of Savoy, Alexios Apokaykos, patriarch John Kalekas), Kantakouzenos had at his disposal almost all the military forces of the Empire , which, at best, as mentioned, is estimated to have numbered 8,000 men.

This army was gradually lost during the war, subject to normal attrition from military operations, but also from diseases. Then, in the absence of equal military forces, both rivals committed the crime of calling to their aid the enemies of the Empire, at a time when there was not even a Byzantine Army to oppose them, in case they violated the terms agreed upon, as they did.

Thus, with Byzantine ships, the Turks passed, for the first time in Europe, at a time when parts of Macedonia and Thrace were being handed over to Serbs and Bulgarians, in exchange for providing troops to the warring parties. In this civil war, on both sides, more than 20,000 Turks and Turkomans and a few thousand Serbs and Bulgarians were used, who sometimes reinforced one side and sometimes the other, depending on the exchanges they received.

When the war ended, in 1347, with Kantakouzenos crowned emperor, along with John V Palaiologos, Byzantium had two emperors, but no army and no money. The Turks had occupied the peninsula of Gallipoli, which they turned into their stronghold, from where they were to subjugate the entire Balkan peninsula. By 1354 when Kantakuzinos was forced to abdicate, leaving power to John V the damage to the Empire was now irreversible, especially after 1359 when the Ottoman Sultan Orhan died and was succeeded by son of Murat I.

100 years of agony

And while Murat was gathering thousands of Turks and Turkomans, in Gallipoli, with the aim of crushing the Empire, it only had a few hundred regular soldiers, because of the civil conflicts, but also the successive invasions of foreign troops into its territories, after invitation of claimants to the throne, and the welfare system had collapsed. The countryside had been plundered and only around a few cities there was economic life.

In 1361 the Turks overran Edirne, making the pressure on the Empire unbearable. In 1362 they had reached Thebes, as there was no one to face them. The Serbs tried, in 1365, to capture Adrianople, but were defeated by the Turks in the first battle of the Evros. In 1371, in the second battle of the Evros, the Serbs were literally annihilated by the Turks, who thus definitively dominated the Balkans, conquering Bulgaria as well.

The Empire had no forces to react. The young prince and later co-emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos, son of John V, tried to deal with the Turkish insurgency. He gathered some soldiers and moved against Serres. He had agreed with the inhabitants to open the gates to him and slaughter the Turkish garrison. But his plans leaked out and Murat turned against him with great forces. Manuel was unable to fight the thousands of Turks in open field, as according to accounts of the time, he had only 100 regular soldiers – the rest who followed him were disorderly, armed citizens. Nevertheless, he fought the Turks in the fortress of Hortiatis, outside Thessaloniki. He fought heroically, but was defeated and found refuge in Thessaloniki, which the Turks occupied, for the first time, in 1387.

A typical example of the economic and consequently military weakness of the Empire is the campaign of Count Amadeus of Savoy, in 1366-67 and of the Frenchman Jean le Mengre Bousicault, in 1398-99, in the East. The chosen "green count" Amadeus, arrived in Constantinople with 1,500 men and managed to clear the surrounding area from the Turks, also recapturing Gallipoli. But the Turks had already spread so far in the Balkans that this success had no practical significance. Besides, due to lack of resources, the Empire was unable to maintain even this small military force.

History repeated itself with the French marshal Boussico, who was hired, along with 200 cavalry and 2,000 infantry, by Manuel in 1398 to lift the siege of Constantinople by Bayezid. With these few, but well-equipped and experienced men, Vousiko succeeded in his mission. Lacking financial resources, however, he left the following year for France. Since then the Empire has never fielded forces again, with the exception of those of the Despotate of the Moreus, in the first half of the 15th century. Nevertheless, today some, ideologically charged, if not fanatical, attribute the Fall of 1453 to thousands of other imaginary reasons than the "300,000 monks who did not fight" (probably there were not even 300,000 citizens capable of bearing arms in the free Greek territories in 1453), until anything else.