Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/112

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

upon the republic of St Mark. New Phocaea and the northern islands (Lemnos, Imbros, Samothrace, Thasos) had been successively conquered (1456-7); and in 1462 Lesbos, which had become a very nest of pirates from Spain and Sicily, was annexed to the Turkish dominion. Its last Genoese Lord, Nicolò Gattilusio, was strangled; one-third of the inhabitants were enslaved, one-third deported to augment the population of Constantinople, and the rest, the poorest and the worst, were left to till the land and gather in the vintage. As bases for maritime war in the Aegean, Venice still possessed Negroponte, Candia, together with Nauplia ("Romanian Naples"), and had command of the islands composing the Duchy of Naxos.

The inevitable war broke out in 1463, and its first scene was the Morea. Singlehanded, Venice was scarcely equal to the work, and the delay of ten years made the task more arduous.

Never was there a moment at which a common effort of the Christian powers of Europe was more imperatively needed; never a moment at which such an effort was less feasible. The monarchs were not blind to the menace of the new and deadly ecumenical force which was hurled within range of their kingdoms; they discerned and owned the peril; but internal policy and the consolidation of their power at home so wholly absorbed their interest, that nothing less than a Turkish advance to the Upper Danube or the Rhine would have availed to stir them into action. The Emperor Frederick III had not remained unmoved by the fall of Constantinople, but his strained relations with Hungary as well as the affairs of the Empire hindered him from stretching a hand to save Servia. Yet at his side was a man who fully realised the jeopardy and conceived the project, to which he devoted himself heart and soul, of stirring up the princes of Europe to wage a holy war against the infidel. This was Aeneas Sylvius, bishop of Siena. He utters his idea immediately after the fall of the City in a letter to Pope Nicholas V: "Mohammad is among us; the sabre of the Turks waves over our head; the Black Sea is shut to our ships; the foe possess Wallachia, whence they will pass into Hungary—and Germany. And we meanwhile live in strife and enmity among ourselves. The Kings of France and England are at war; the princes of Germany have leapt to arms against one another; Spain is seldom at peace, Italy never wins repose from conflicts for alien lordship. How much better to turn our arms against the enemies of our faith! It devolves upon you, Holy Father, to unite the kings and princes, and urge them to gather together to take counsel for the safety of the Christian world."

A vain idea, inappropriate to the conditions of the age, but which was to hover in the air for many years to come and inspire abundance of useless talk and empty negotiations! The urgent words of Aeneas and a letter of the Emperor roused the Pope to an action which neither of them had contemplated; he issued a bull imposing a tithe for a war