Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/104

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guidance of Mohammad I; how the wave of conquest once more rolled on under Murad II, until a seal was set upon their European empire by the capture of Constantinople,—all this has been told by Gibbon. The story is here taken up in 1453.

For a moment it was not clear whether the new lord of Constantinople would be content with a suzerainty over the neighbouring lands which had once been provinces of the Roman empire, or would reduce them to the condition of provinces of the Ottoman realm. The princes of the Peloponnese, the despot of Servia, the lords of some of the island States of the Aegean, forthwith offered their submission. Mohammad soon showed that he would not acquiesce in a system of vassal states paying him tribute as overlord, but aimed at compassing the complete and immediate subjection of the Balkan peninsula. A typical oriental conqueror, he was driven on by the true instinct that it would be fatal to stand still or abandon aggression; he believed that it was the destiny of his people to spread the religion of the Prophet over the whole earth, and the task of his life was to further the accomplishment of this end. His next successors worked with varying vigour in the same direction, and the Ottomans throve so long as they conquered. But it was constant success in war that quickened and strengthened the frame of their State; and the hour in which limits were set to territorial advance marks the beginning of a rapid decline. The nature of their institutions, as we shall see, demanded war.

Mohammad first turned his arms against Servia. This step was determined by Servia's geographical position, lying on the road to Hungary. For Mohammad saw that Hungary was the only country, John Hunyady the only leader, that he had seriously to fear. The two western powers which had the greatest interests at stake in the east and were most gravely affected by the change of masters at Constantinople, were Venice and Genoa. The Genoese were accustomed to dealings with the Ottomans; they were the first Christian power west of the Adriatic that had made a treaty with them, and they had not scrupled to use the alliance of the infidels against their fellow-Christians. The Genoese colony of Galata sent the keys of their walled town to Mohammad on the fall of the City, and the Sultan though he slighted their walls granted them a favourable capitulation securing their liberties and commercial rights. But Genoa was feeble and indifferent; and, feeling herself unequal to new efforts, she transferred, before the fatal year was over, her Pontic settlements to the Genoese Bank of St George, into whose hands the administration of Corsica passed about the same time. But the financial resources of the Bank did not suffice for the task of supporting these colonies, and Genoese trade declined. Venice, on the other hand, was not indifferent; and her first thought was, not to recover the bulwark of Christendom from the hands of the Muslim, but to preserve her own commercial privileges under the rule of the infidel sovereign. She sent