Category Archives: Greece

Who Were the Macedonians?

From A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, by Michael Axworthy (Basic Books, 2016), Kindle Loc. 662-70:

Who were the Macedonians? Some have speculated that they were not really Greeks, but more closely related to the Thracians. Or perhaps they descended from some other Balkan people influenced by the arrival of Indo-European Greeks. They had come under heavy Greek influence by the time of Philip and Alexander—but even at that late stage the Macedonians made a strong distinction between themselves and the Greek hangers-on who accompanied Alexander’s eastern adventure. In the fifth century BC, Macedonians were normally, like other non-Greeks, excluded from the Olympic games. But the Persians seem to have referred to them as “Greeks with hats” (they were known for their wide-brimmed hats), and Herodotus too seems to have accepted them as of Greek origin. Like the Medes and Persians in the time of Cyrus, as well as many other militant peoples from mountainous or marginal areas, the Macedonians had a strong sense of their collective superiority—but they also sustained many private feuds among themselves. They were notoriously difficult to manage.

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Aboard a Zeppelin to Africa, 1917

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 6233-6255, 6268-6280, 6300-6317, 6404-6408:

L59, pushed by a tailwind from the direction of the German Reich, rumbled south from Jamboli in the freezing dawn of November 21, 1917, at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour. The great lumbering airship cast her shadow over Adrianople in Turkey at nine forty-five a.m., and over the Sea of Marmara’s chop a short time later. At Pandena, on the southern shore, she picked up the railroad tracks to Smyrna, a steel ribbon barely visible after sunset. At seven forty p.m., L59 pulled free of the Turkish coast at the Lipsas Straits. Now the Greek Dodecanese Islands—Kos, Patmos, Rhodes—passed below, nestled like dark jewels in the black Mediterranean waters, notoriously stormy this time of year. But tonight, the Zeppelin surged forward beneath a clear sky and brilliant stars. [Lieutenant Commander Ludwig] Bockholt, who had made his life in the navy, had long ago learned to steer by them when necessary.

L59’s crew of twenty—excluding Bockholt and [medical doctor Max] Zupitza—included twelve mechanics to service the five Maybach 240-horsepower engines (one in the forward control car, two opposed on the belly one-third of the way back, and two aft, each driving a single, massive twenty-foot propeller); two “elevator operators” (the elevators, movable flaps at the tail, controlled the upward or downward incline of the nose cone); a radio operator; and a sailmaker, whose job it was to sew up tears in the muslin envelopes affixed within the belly filled with the flammable hydrogen/oxygen mixture that kept the massive airship afloat.

As in the seaborne navy, watches divided the day into four-hour increments. As L59 approached the island of Crete at eight thirty p.m., a quarter of the crew just gone off watch opened their dinnertime cans of Kaloritkon, a bizarre sort of self-heating MRE. These undigestible, oversalted tubes of potted meat literally cooked themselves via a chemical reaction when exposed to air—heating food over open flame and smoking being strictly verboten aboard the flammable airship. The Kaloritkons, which everyone hated, took much water to wash down, and water was scarce, with barely 14 liters allotted per man for the duration of the voyage. At ten fifteen p.m., L59 passed above Cape Sidero at Crete’s eastern extremity at 3,000 feet. Then the stars by which Bockholt had been guiding the Zeppelin to Africa suddenly disappeared, blotted out by a solid mass of black, churning clouds, shot through with bright veins of lightning. The Zeppelin headed into this cloud bank and, buffeted by thunderclaps and driving rain, was also suddenly consumed by a strange, vivid flame, cool to the touch, that seemed to dance across every surface of the doped canvas envelope.

“The ship’s burning!” called the top lookout—alarming, but no cause for alarm: This was St. Elmo’s fire, named after Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. Technically a luminous plasma generated by coronal discharge in an atmospheric electrical field, it burned a vivid violet-blue and, in nontechnical terms, was entirely beautiful….

At five fifteen a.m., the sun cracked the rim of earth and the huge airship passed over the African continent at Ras Bulair on the Libyan coast. Miles of desert lay ahead; no Zeppelin had flown across such a landscape before. Now the level wastes of sand and rock stretched monotonously below L59’s keel, from horizon to horizon. Soon, the sun, blazing down, began to dry her canvas skin, still drenched and heavy from the storm. The airship grew lighter as the watery sheen evaporated; lighter still as fuel consumption continued apace. Then the gas in her envelopes, expanding with the heat, blew out the automatic valves into the atmosphere and soon, L59 became dangerously light and increasingly difficult to handle. To compensate, Bockholt flew her “nose down” throughout the day, shifting 1,650 pounds of ballast aft as a counterbalance.

In the late morning, hot desert air rose in bubbles of buoyancy, alternating with heavy downdrafts of cooler air. This caused a roller-coaster effect that made most of the crew violently airsick. Even the hardened navy veterans among them, used to storms at sea, were not immune to the stomach-churning sensation of weightlessness as L59 plunged into the downdrafts and precipitously rose again. Despite all this, L59 plowed ahead and made the Farafra Oasis around noon. This incandescent patch of green slid by below, its date palms rustling in the hot wind….

Flying a Zeppelin is a difficult undertaking under the best conditions: Gas expands and contracts according to changing temperatures; lift and buoyancy fluctuate; all must be counterbalanced ceaselessly by the release of ballast water, the measured shifting of cargo, the canting of nose or tail via clumsy elevator flaps—and all this becomes doubly difficult over the desert. Bockholt had lightened his airship by 4,400 pounds of ballast in the last full heat of day and had even tossed some boxes of supplies overboard. He knew the rapidly cooling temperatures of the desert at night would contract the gas, causing the Zeppelin to sink. To counterbalance this sinking effect, he had planned to fly the ship at four degrees “nose up” on her four remaining engines.

But he had not counted on the humid, dense air of the Nile Valley. Even at 3,000 feet, ambient temperatures had reached sixty-eight degrees by ten p.m.; they rose steadily after midnight and still L59’s lift capacity gradually diminished. Finally, at three a.m., L59 began to lose altitude precipitously. The engines stalled. Forward thrust gone, the Zeppelin sank through the atmosphere from 3,100 feet to just under 1,300, not high enough to clear a looming desert escarpment; a minute later, her main radio antennae sheared off upon contact with an outcropping of red rock.

Now Bockholt ordered his crew to lighten the ship even further. With all engines stopped, 6,200 pounds of ballast and ammunition went overboard. The crew watched cases of ammunition, much needed by the Schutztruppe, shatter and explode on the ragged slopes below. But this sacrifice had its desired effect: Gradually, the sinking super Zeppelin stabilized; slowly, she rose into safer atmospheres:

“To fly steadily at 4 degrees heavy at night can easily be catastrophic, especially with sudden temperature changes in the Sudan, as at Jebel Ain,” Bockholt later confided to L59’s war diary, “particularly if the engines fail from overheating with warm outside temperatures. . . . Ship should have 3000 kg of 4 percent of her lift for each night to take care of cooling effect.”

Clearly, it was a complicated business.

L59, now less than 125 miles west of Khartoum, had two-thirds of the perilous journey behind her. But presently, to the dismay of all aboard, Bockholt turned the great airship around and pointed her nose cone due north ….

At last, at seven thirty a.m. on November 25, 1917, L59 made her docking station at Jamboli. Her mooring ropes dropped, the ground crew drew her down and walked her into the long shed. China Show had ended in failure. The twenty-two aeronauts, wobbly-legged, nearly deafened by the droning Maybachs at close quarters, stumbled down the ladders to the ground in the gray Balkan morning. They had been in the air for almost four days and had covered 4,200 air miles—the longest distance in the shortest time of any airship to date.

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Religious Cleansing after the Crimean War

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 7351-7390:

To encourage the Christian settlement of the Crimea, the tsarist government introduced a law in 1862 granting special rights and subsidies to colonists from Russia and abroad. Land abandoned by the Tatars was set aside for sale to foreigners. The influx of new Christian populations during the 1860s and 1870s transformed the ethnic profile of the Crimea. What had once been Tatar settlements were now populated by Russians, Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians, even Germans and Estonians – all of them attracted by promises of cheap and fertile land or by special rights of entry into urban guilds and corporations not ordinarily available to newcomers. Armenians and Greeks turned Sevastopol and Evpatoria into major trading centres, while older Tatar towns like Kefe (Theodosia), Gözleve and Bakhchiserai fell into decline. Many of the rural immigrants were Bulgarian or other Christian refugees from Bessarabia, territory ceded by the Russians to the Turks after the Crimean War. They were settled by the government in 330 villages once occupied by the Tatars, and were helped financially to transform mosques into churches. Meanwhile, many of the Tatars who had fled from the Crimea were resettled on the lands abandoned by the Christians in Bessarabia.

All around the Black Sea rim, the Crimean War resulted in the uprooting and transmigration of ethnic and religious groups. They crossed in both directions over the religious line separating Russia from the Muslim world. Greeks emigrated in their tens of thousands from Moldavia and Bessarabia to southern Russia after the Crimean War. Moving in the opposite direction, from Russia into Turkey, were tens of thousands of Polish refugees and soldiers who had fought in the Polish Legion (the so-called ‘Ottoman Cossacks’) against Russia in the Crimea and the Caucasus. They were settled by the Porte on Turkish lands in the Dobrudja region of the Danube delta, in Anatolia and other areas, while others ended up in Adampol (Polonezkoi), the Polish settlement established by Adam Czartoryski, the leader of the Polish emigration, on the outskirts of Constantinople in 1842.

On the other side of the Black Sea, tens of thousands of Christian Armenians left their homes in Anatolia and emigrated to Russian-controlled Transcaucasia in the wake of the Crimean War. They were fearful that the Turks would see them as allies of the Russians and carry out reprisals against them. The European commission appointed by the Paris Treaty to fix the Russian-Ottoman border found Armenian villages ‘half inhabited’ and churches in a state of ‘advanced decay’.

Meanwhile, even larger numbers of Circassians, Abkhazians and other Muslim tribes were forced out of their homelands by the Russians, who after the Crimean War stepped up their military campaign against Shamil, engaging in a concerted policy of what today would be defined as ‘ethnic cleansing’ to Christianize the Caucasus. The campaign was largely driven by the strategic demands created by the Paris settlement in the Black Sea, where the Royal Navy could freely operate and the Russians had no means of self-defence in their vulnerable coastal areas where the Muslim population was hostile to Russia. The Russians focused first on the fertile lands of Circassia in the western Caucasus – territories close to the Black Sea coast. Muslim villages were attacked by Russian troops, men and women massacred, farms and homes destroyed to force the villagers to leave or starve. The Circassians were presented with the choice of moving north to the Kuban plains – far enough away from the coastal areas for them not to be a threat in case of an invasion – or emigrating to the Ottoman Empire. Tens of thousands resettled in the north but equally large numbers of Circassians were herded by the Russians to the Black Sea ports, where, sometimes after weeks of waiting by the docks in terrible conditions, they were loaded onto Turkish boats and taken off to Trebizond, Samsun and Sinope in Anatolia. The Ottoman authorities were unprepared for the mass influx of refugees and several thousands of them died from disease within months of their arrival in Turkey. By 1864 the Muslim population of Circassia had been entirely cleared. The British consul C. H. Dickson claimed that one could walk a whole day in formerly Circassian territories and not meet a living soul.

After the Circassians, it was the turn of the Abkhazian Muslims, at that time settled in the Sukhumi – Kale region, where the Russian campaign to clear them off their lands began in 1866. The tactics were essentially the same as those employed against the Circassians, except this time the Russians had a policy of keeping back the able-bodied male workers out of fear for the economy, and forcing out their women, children and the elderly. The British consul and Arabic scholar William Gifford Palgrave, who made a tour of Abkhazia to collect information on the ethnic cleansing, estimated that three-quarters of the Muslim population had been forced to emigrate. Overall, counting both Circassians and Abkhazians, around 1.2 million Muslims were expelled from the Caucasus in the decade following the Crimean War, most of them resettling in the Ottoman Empire, and by the end of the nineteenth century the Muslims of these two regions were outnumbered by new Christian settlers by more than ten to one.

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Catherine the Great Greek Wannabe

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 333-351:

More than any other Russian ruler, Catherine identified with the Greek cause. Under the growing influence of her most senior military commander, statesman and court favourite Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine even dreamed of re-creating the old Byzantine Empire on the ruins of the Ottoman. The French philosopher Voltaire, with whom the Empress corresponded, addressed her as ‘votre majesté impériale de l’église grecque’, while Baron Friedrich Grimm, her favourite German correspondent, referred to her as ‘l’Impératrice des Grecs’. Catherine conceived this Hellenic empire as a vast Orthodox imperium protected by Russia, whose Slavonic tongue had once been the lingua franca of the Byzantine Empire, according (erroneously) to the first great historian of Russia, Vasily Tatishchev. The Empress gave the name of Constantine – after both the first and the final emperor of Byzantium – to her second grandson. To commemorate his birth in 1779, she had minted special silver coins with the image of the great St Sophia church (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople, cruelly converted into a mosque since the Ottoman conquest. Instead of a minaret, the coin showed an Orthodox cross on the cupola of the former Byzantine basilica. To educate her grandson to become the ruler of this resurrected Eastern Empire, the Russian Empress brought nurses from Naxos to teach him Greek, a language which he spoke with great facility as an adult.

It was always unclear how serious she was about this ‘Greek Project’. In the form that it was drawn up by Count Bezborodko, her private secretary and virtual Foreign Minister, in 1780, the project involved nothing less than the expulsion of the Turks from Europe, the division of their Balkan territories between Russia and Austria, and the ‘re-establishment of the ancient Greek empire’ with Constantinople as its capital. Catherine discussed the project with the Austrian Emperor Joseph II in 1781. They agreed on its desirability in an exchange of letters over the next year. But whether they intended to carry out the plan remains uncertain. Some historians have concluded that the Greek project was no more than a piece of neoclassical iconography, or political theatre, like the ‘Potemkin villages’, which played no real part in Russia’s foreign policy. But even if there was no concrete plan for immediate action, it does at least seem fairly clear that the project formed a part of Catherine’s general aims for the Russian Empire as a Black Sea power linked through trade and religion to the Orthodox world of the eastern Mediterranean, including Jerusalem.

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‘The Good War’ Included Many Bad

From Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe (St. Martin’s, 2012), Kindle Loc. 6735-6779:

In his memoirs of the late 1940s and 50s, published after his death following the famous ‘umbrella assassination’ in London in 1978, the Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov told a story that is emblematic of the postwar period – not only in his own country, but in Europe as a whole. It involved a conversation between one of his friends, who had been arrested for challenging a Communist official who had jumped the bread queue, and an officer of the Bulgarian Communist militia:

‘And now tell me who your enemies are?’ the militia chief demanded.
K. thought for a while and replied: ‘I don’t really know, I don’t think I have any enemies.’
‘No enemies!’ The chief raised his voice. ‘Do you mean to say that you hate nobody and nobody hates you?’
‘As far as I know, nobody.’
‘You are lying,’ shouted the Lieutenant-Colonel suddenly, rising from his chair. ‘What kind of a man are you not to have any enemies? You clearly do not belong to our youth, you cannot be one of our citizens, if you have no enemies! … And if you really do not know how to hate, we shall teach you! We shall teach you very quickly!’

In a sense, the militia chief in this story is right – it was virtually impossible to emerge from the Second World War without enemies. There can hardly be a better demonstration than this of the moral and human legacy of the war. After the desolation of entire regions; after the butchery of over 35 million people; after countless massacres in the name of nationality, race, religion, class or personal prejudice, virtually every person on the continent had suffered some kind of loss or injustice. Even countries which had seen little direct fighting, such as Bulgaria, had been subject to political turmoil, violent squabbles with their neighbours, coercion from the Nazis and eventually invasion by one of the world’s new superpowers. Amidst all these events, to hate one’s rivals had become entirely natural. Indeed, the leaders and propagandists of all sides had spent six long years promoting hatred as an essential weapon in the quest for victory. By the time this Bulgarian militia chief was terrorizing young students at Sofia University, hatred was no longer a mere by-product of the war – in the Communist mindset it had been elevated to a duty.

There were many, many reasons not to love one’s neighbour in the aftermath of the war. He might be a German, in which case he would be reviled by almost everyone, or he might have collaborated with Germans, which was just as bad: most of the vengeance in the aftermath of the war was directed at these two groups. He might worship the wrong god – a Catholic god or an Orthodox one, a Muslim god, or a Jewish god, or no god at all. He might belong to the wrong race or nationality: Croats had massacred Serbs during the war, Ukrainians had killed Poles, Hungarians had suppressed Slovaks, and almost everyone had persecuted Jews. He might have the wrong political beliefs: both Fascists and Communists had been responsible for countless atrocities across the continent, and both Fascists and Communists had themselves been subjected to brutal repression – as indeed had those subscribing to virtually every shade of political ideology between these two extremes.

The sheer variety of grievances that existed in 1945 demonstrates not only how universal the war had been, but also how inadequate is our traditional way of understanding it. It is not enough to portray the war as a simple conflict between the Axis and the Allies over territory. Some of the worst atrocities in the war had nothing to do with territory, but with race or nationality. The Nazis did not attack the Soviet Union merely for the sake of Lebensraum: it was also an expression of their urge to assert the superiority of the German race over Jews, Gypsies and Slavs. The Soviets did not invade Poland and the Baltic States only for the sake of territory either: they wanted to propagate communism as far westwards as they were able. Some of the most vicious fighting was not between the Axis and the Allies at all, but between local people who took the opportunity of the wider war to give vent to much older frustrations. The Croat Ustashas fought for the sake of ethnic purity. The Slovaks, Ukrainians and Lithuanians fought for national liberation. Many Greeks and Yugoslavs fought for the abolition of the monarchy – or for its restoration. Many Italians fought to free themselves from the shackles of a medieval feudalism. The Second World War was therefore not only a traditional conflict for territory: it was simultaneously a war of race, and a war of ideology, and was interlaced with half a dozen civil wars fought for purely local reasons.

Given that the Germans were only one ingredient in this vast soup of different conflicts, it stands to reason that their defeat did not bring an end to the violence. In fact, the traditional view that the war came to an end when Germany finally surrendered in May 1945 is entirely misleading: in reality, their capitulation only brought an end to one aspect of the fighting. The related conflicts over race, nationality and politics continued for weeks, months and sometimes years afterwards. Gangs of Italians were still lynching Fascists late into the 1940s. Greek Communists and Nationalists, who first fought one another as opponents or collaborators with Germany, were still at each other’s throats in 1949. The Ukrainian and Lithuanian partisan movements, born at the height of the war, were still fighting well into the mid-1950s. The Second World War was like a vast supertanker ploughing through the waters of Europe: it had such huge momentum that, while the engines might have been reversed in May 1945, its turbulent course was not finally brought to a halt until several years later.

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Smyrna, 1919: Mustafa Kemal’s Last Chance

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 240-242:

The armistice was barely a month old when Mustafa Kemal reached Constantinople, after month of fighting the Arabs. He found the enemy everywhere – British warships in the Bosporus, French troops in the capital, Italians guarding the railways. The Ottoman Empire had been smashed, all the leaders of the Young Turks were abroad in hiding, the Government was led by an old pro-British diplomat from the reign of Abdul Hamid called Tewfik Pasha.

Mustafa Kemal should have been in a unique position, for with Enver gone he had no rival as the only successful general in Turkey. He was also kn own to have consistently opposed joining the Germans in the war. Yet political power eluded him, largely because of his own lack of tact. He passionately advocated ‘Turkey for the Turks’ in political speeches, demanding generous peace terms. He publicly attached Tewfik’s government and the occupation forces; he tried to stem the timid acceptance of total defeat; he tried to form a new political party as the months rolled by – until Turkey was shocked by a blow which to them was even graver than defeat.

In February 1919, Venizelos, the Greek Prime Minister, made a formal claim to the Peace Conference in Paris for the possession of the city of Smyrna on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. It was the price which Britain and France had already agreed on as a reward for Greek entry into the war. So many Greeks lived on the Aegean coast that Venizelos’ demands seemed reasonably fair, but there was also a more cogent argument in favour of them. Lloyd George regarded Venizelos as ‘the greatest statesman Greece had thrown up since the days of Pericles’ and it seemed to him highly expedient for the Greeks to replace the Turks as protectors of the British route to India. To President Wilson, a Greek occupation of Smyrna would be preferable to Italian threats to make the Mediterranean an Italian lake. According to the American author Edward Hale Bierstadt, ‘at the suggestion of President Wilson Greece was authorised to occupy Smyrna in order to forestall any Italian move in that direction’.

Three months later, on 15 May, 20,000 Greek troops landed at Smyrna, backed by British, American and French warships, and, as Churchill put it, ‘set up their standards of invasion and conquest in Asia Minor’. Delirious crowds of Greeks – for centuries a subject race of the Ottoman Empire – welcomed their ‘liberators’ who immediately sought revenge by massacring as many Turks as they could find in the city and province.

At first the Turks could not believe the Greeks were in Smyrna. It was one thing to suffer the occupation even of Constantinople by alien troops of the victorious Western powers, but for a former subject people to be presented with one of the greatest cities in Anatolia was an altogether different kind of humiliation. A crowd of 50,000 gathered in protest before the mosque of Sultan Ahmed in Constantinople. Under the machine guns of Allied troops, they carried black flags while black curtains shrouded the national flag of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal was there and (as he later wrote) was obsessed with only one thought – somehow to reach Anatolia and organise resistance to the Greeks, and the docile Turkish government which had given Smyrna away.

To Mustafa Kemal, distrusted by both Turks and British, it must have seemed an impossible dream. He was already known to the Allied occupation authorities as an intractable hotthead with dangerous left-wing sympathies. And, though respected for his military prowess, he was at this time hardly a figure to inspire confidence. Furious and impotent, he had let himself run to seed. Down-at-heel, short of money, he was living at the modest Pera Palace Hotel overlooking the Golden Horn. His face was lined and grey from a recurrence of his disease.

Yet, unknown to Mustafa Kemal, the British, even before the Greeks stepped ashore at Smyrna, had suggested that the Sultan should send a high-ranking officer to deal with increasing violence in the area. The request was not exactly a threat, but it masked an alternative distasteful to the Sultan. If the Turks could not keep their Anatolian house in order, the Allies would have to send in troops.

Mustafa Kemal was the last man anyone would have imagined would be nominated to handle the gathering storm in Anatolia. And yet that is exactly what happened, for he was the last man – the only man – available. At their wits’ end, the Sultan and Damad Ferid, the Grand Vizier, turned to him. The British were horrified; they already had evidence that he was concerned with plots to prepare centres of resistance, and his name was on a list for possible deportation to Malta. The Grand Vizier, however, finally persuaded the British that the troubles in Anatolia were due to rebel factions loyal to the memory of Enver and anxious to restore the Committee of Union and Progress….

Mustafa escaped from Constantinople by barely and hour, thanks to the blundering jealousies of the Allies. Urgent orders were certainly sent to intercept him, but the British, French and Italians all played varying parts in the control of passenger vessels, and each distrusted the others. While they were bickering, Mustafa Kemal slipped through the net.

He landed at Samsun on the Black Sea coast on 19 May 1919 – four days after the Greeks had occupied Smyrna. His orders were to disband the Turkish forces in the area. Instead he immediately started to organise a resistance movement and raise an army.

The Anatolian Greeks and Armenians would pay an especially dear price for these external interventions.

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Venice’s Indecisive Leader, Decisive Loss, 1470

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4978-5023:

On the morning of July 11 [1470], after three days of heavy gunfire, [Sultan Mehmet II] was about to launch what he hoped might prove the final assault when he was stopped dead in his tracks.

Ottoman lookouts suddenly became aware of the Venetian fleet sweeping down the Euripus channel from its northern end. There were seventy-one ships, short of Longo’s recommended hundred, but still a sizable force, including a powerful squadron of fifty-two war galleys and one weighty great galley, much feared by the Turks. They were under sail, making strong headway down the strait with the breeze and the tidal bore behind them. At a stroke Mehmet II was horribly vulnerable. The fleet had only to smash the pontoon bridges to sever the Ottoman line of retreat and isolate it on the island. Mehmet was said to have shed tears of impotent rage at the imminent ruin of his plan; he mounted his horse ready to escape from the island. On the walls of the citadel the defenders’ spirits rose. Relief seemed certain. Another hour and the bridges would be broken.

Then, quite inexplicably, the fleet stopped and anchored upstream. And waited.

Niccolò da Canal, captain-general of the sea, was a scholar and a lawyer rather than a seaman, more used to carefully weighing legal options than to decisive action. At that moment the lawyer’s instinct came into play. He was worried for the safety of his ships against gunfire and unnerved by the strange shifts of the current. He ordered the fleet to pause. His captains urged him forward; he resisted. Two Cretans begged to charge the first pontoon bridge in the great galley with the momentum of the wind and the tidal bore. Some of the sailors had family in the city; the will was there to do or die. Reluctantly permission was granted. The galley raised sail, but just as it was under way, da Canal changed his mind. It was commanded back by cannon shot.

On the walls, the defenders watched all this—first with joy at the prospect of rescue, then with disbelief, finally with horror. They sent increasingly desperate signals to the static fleet—torches were lit and extinguished, then the standard of Saint Mark was raised and lowered. Finally, according to Angiolello, “a great crucifix, the size of a man, was constructed and carried along the side of the city facing toward our fleet, so the commanders of the fleet might be moved to have some pity on us in ways that they could well imagine for themselves.” To no avail. Da Canal took his fleet back upstream and anchored. “Our spirits sank,” remembered Angiolello, “and [we] were left with almost no hope of salvation.” Others cursed: “May God forgive the individual who failed to perform his duty!”

Mehmet was quickest to react. Responding to this surprising turn of events, he immediately announced an all-out attack early next day and personally toured the camp on horseback promising the troops everything in the city by way of plunder. He then commanded a large detachment of handgunners to the upper bridge to protect it from da Canal’s fleet. In the dark hours before dawn, to the customary din of drums and trumpets, he ordered forward his least reliable troops—“the rabble”—to wear down the defense. As they were shot down, the regulars advanced over the trampled corpses and stormed their way in. The whole population, men, women, and children, participated in a last-ditch defense, barricading the narrow lanes and hurling scalding water, quicklime, and boiling pitch on the enemy as it battled forward, foot by foot, street by street. By midmorning, they had reached the central square; from the fortress on the bridge, the defenders hoisted a black flag as a last despairing plea for help. Da Canal responded too little and too late. A halfhearted assault was mounted on the pontoon, but when the sailors saw the Ottoman flag fluttering from the walls, the captain-general raised his anchor and sailed off, leaving the despairing populace to a ghastly fate….

Those who surrendered were slaughtered on the spot. Others were pointedly taken to the Church of the Holy Apostles to be killed. Their heads were piled up outside the patriarch’s house. In cold fury, Mehmet ordered any of his men hiding profitable captives to be beheaded along with their victims; he had the galleys searched accordingly.

So many tried to escape over the bridge that it collapsed, hurling them into the sea, but the fort in the middle was unreachable and still holding out. Eventually, the defenders surrendered with a promise of safe conduct. When this was reported to Mehmet, he turned furiously on the pasha responsible: “If you gave your word [to spare their lives], you did not remember my oath.” They were all killed. In some accounts, it was reported that the bailo was among those on the bridge and that Mehmet had agreed to spare his head. He complied to the letter: The bailo was sandwiched between planks and sawn in half. More likely he had died at the walls. It does appear that the sultan exacted terrible revenge. Particularly enraged by the mere boys who had shot down his men so effectively, he had all the male survivors ten years and older, about eight hundred, brought into his presence. Their hands were tied behind their backs; they were made to kneel in a large circle, then beheaded one by one, creating a pattern of corpses. The bodies were thrown in the sea, the surviving women and children marched off into slavery.

Despite Mehmet’s oath, a few did survive, among them Giovan-Maria Angiolello, taken off as a slave; and a monk, Jacopo dalla Castellana, who was probably able to disguise himself. His short account ends autobiographically: “I, Brother Jacopo dalla Castellana, saw all these events, and escaped from the island because I speak both Turkish and Greek.”

The Venetian fleet ineffectually tracked the enemy convoy back to Gallipoli, then trailed home in disgrace. The news from Negroponte was, if anything, more devastating than that from Constantinople seventeen years earlier.

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