Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/103

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CHAPTER III.
THE OTTOMAN CONQUEST.


In the middle of the fourteenth century two powers which had recently sprung into unexpected prominence were closing in upon Constantinople from the west and from the east. But in the race for the stronghold on the Bosphorus the competitor which might have seemed to have the best chances of winning, suddenly fell out. With the death of Stephen Dusan (1356) the ill-consolidated empire of Servia collapsed: his successors were ciphers; whereas Orchan, the Sultan of the Ottomans, handed down a well-disciplined State, built on strong foundations, to a line of eminent princes. Under him the Ottoman Turks won (1358) their first foothold on European soil by the occupation of the fortress of Gallipoli,—somewhat less than a century before Mohammad II captured Constantinople. It was not long before Orchan's son Murad I had crept round and conquered the eastern half of the Balkan peninsula, cutting off Constantinople from Christian Europe. For the first time, since the days of Darius and Xerxes, Thrace passed under the sway of an Asiatic power,—often as the hosts of Sassanid kings and Saracen caliphs had lined the shores of the dividing straits. If the conquest had resembled in character the old Persian conquest, if the inhabitants had been required only to pay tribute to a distant ruler and receive his garrisons in their cities, the lot of these lands would have been light. But they were taken into full possession by their new lords; and oriental nomads of an alien and intolerant religion were planted as the dominant race amid the Christian population. The circumstance that the Ottomans were nomads (they were a clan of the Turkish tribe of Oghuz) gives their empire its significance in the history of mankind. In the perpetual struggle between the herdsmen and the tillers of the soil which has been waged from remote ages on the continents of Europe and Asia, the advance of the Ottomans was a decisive victory for the children of the steppes. This feature of their conquest is of no less fundamental importance than its aspect as a victory for Islam.

How the Ottomans were caught in the tide of the Mongol invasion and their power almost ruined; how they recovered under the prudent