Unknown Authors, historical artefact.—THE MONGOLS AND THE TURKS

This text below is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ , seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).

I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts. And I will try to discover who was involved in  compiling this book I am studying:


THREE years after the Battle of Angora, in the year 1405 Tamerlane died and the world was well rid of a bloodthirsty tyrant. The smoking ruins of cities and great areas of devastated lands bore silent witness to his career of terrorism, but he achieved little that was permanent, and the dynasty he established survived him only by fifty years.

A very different type of Mongol ruler was Akbar the Great (1556-1605), and some of his ideas and methods have been adopted into the English system of government and bear fruit at the present day.

Akbar’s Adventure with the Elephant Hawa’i in 1561
by Basawan and Chetar Munti (1590-95)

The Reign of Akbar (1556-1605).—On his father’s side, Akbar was descended from Tamerlane, on his mother;s from Jenghiz Khan, and from them both he inherited a great military tradition. But Akbar had far more in common with Asoka, “the peace-lover”, than with those fierce warriors. He was a fighter, and an excellent fighter, when fighting was necessary, but he was a humane conqueror. Even Tamerlane had spared the artists in the cities he conquered, but Akbar took no delight in human bloodshed, and worked out his animal spirits in large-scale hunting of wild beasts.

As a conqueror, Akbar extended his dominions from Afghanistan across all Northern India, and annexed kingdom after kingdom until only the Deccan in Southern India defied his power. It was, however, as a ruler that he achieved his most remarkable results. He showed an extraordinary tolerance, a tolerance as wide as that of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II in choosing the ablest men for responsible posts, whatever their race or religion. He was a shrewd judge of character, and seldom made a mistake.

Akbar developed commerce by every means he could, and regulated his taxes so that they fell equitably, and severely punished unjust and extortionate tax-gatherers. He established schools of education of both Moslems and Hindus. His justice was everywhere famous; it was said that every man wronged and seeking redress “believes that the emperor is on his side.”

At his capital near Delhi, Fatehpur-Sikri, now deserted and the home only of wild beasts, Akbar built a great and splendid palace, where he welcomed foreigners of all races. He loved men of letters, and delighted in poets, painters and architects, in drawing and in music. Indeed, the emperor himself was skilled in a number of handicrafts. Of his court a modern writer has said: “If theological disputation and religious animosities were a sign of high civilization, these rivalled in fierceness those of Western countries; but while in Europe the disputants burnt or massacred one another in their zeal, and devastated whole countries in the name of religion, here in India a restraining power prevented arguments from ending in the use of swords; here was a monarch who actually believed in toleration.” (See “Akbar” by Laurence Binyon, pp. 12-13 https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.281639/page/n9).)

As to Akbar’s own religion, he was a Mohammedan, apparently, but he was intensely interested in many other creeds as well. Hindus, Parsees, Jews and even Christians—all were welcome guests. He used to take part in long discussions with the Jesuit missionaries whom he had summoned to his court. They hope to convert him, and always felt they were on the point of doing so, but he always evaded them, to their exasperation and chagrin. Yet is was a Jesuit who paid the greatest tribute to Akbar’s character and rule in describing him as “naturally humane, gentle and kind,” and … “Just to all men.” (See “Akbar” by Laurence Binyon, p.18, https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.281639/page/n15).)

The Court of Akbar, with its beautiful palace and gardens, the fountains, the rare shrubs, the stables with his five thousand elephants (which he would personally inspect at frequent intervals), the luxury and oriental splendour—all these combined to present a picture to western minds of a fairy-tale ruler, and legends grew up round his name as they did round the Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid. Yet, Akbar was no mere lover of show, nor was he so much in love with beauty and culture that he could not find time for the most minute details of government. Nothing was so small or so unimportant that it could escape his notice.

Personally, Akbar must have been most charming. He was singularly kind to the poor and lowly, and “it is noticable how he makes more of the small presents of the poor (and he is very fond of presents) than of the costly gifts of the nobles, at which he will scarcely glance.” (“Akbar” by Laurence Bunyon pp. 13-14 https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.281639/page/n11)). There is a delightful picture from a manuscript (of a rather later date) which shows the Emperor, in his favourite short white surcoat and red turban, riding on a prancing elephant. The original may be seen among the Stowe MSS, in the British Museum.

Whether he were receiving distinguished guests, or listening to music, or founding a cannon with his own hands, or interminably discussing religion with Jesuit missionaries, Akbar seemed completely absorbed in his occupation. Fatehpur-Sikri rivalled the Italian city-states at the height of the Renaissance as a home for painters, miniaturists, poets, architects and musicians. Hitherto the Persian style had been supreme, but in this reign it began to blend with the Hindu and Mohammedan schools, and finally the Persian was absorbed into the Indian. Under Akbar’s son Jehangir, like him a patron of all the arts, the new Mogul school produced exquisite manuscripts of the most perfect workmanship. And yet, in the midst of all this culture, and despite his appreciation and enthusiasm, Akbar—like Charlemagne—never learnt to write. He was a strange medley of characteristics; on only one point are all his biographers agreed—no ruler ever more truly earned his title of “the Great.”

Instead of falling to pieces at the ruler’s death, Akbar’s kingdom endured, for it had been built up by a statesman, not cowed into submission by a tyrant. His great-grandson, Aurungzebe, became master of all Akbar’s dominions, and of most of Southern India as well; he is known to posterity as the “Great Mogul.”

The Ottoman Turks.—Although the Battle of Angora in 1402 was a crushing blow to the rapidly-spreading power of the Ottoman Turks, they soon began to gather strength again and to advance inexorably westwards.

As far back as the year 1389 the Serbians had exhausted their last energies in struggling against the Turks at the battle of Kossovo, an engagement fought out with the utmost ferocity on both sides. A Turkish writer declared that “the battlefield became like a tulip-bed with its ruddy severed heads and rolling turbans.” After Kossovo it was clear that whereas the Serbians—who were deserted in the hour of need by the Hungarians—had shot their bolt, the Turks were able to put more and better armies into the field, and their conquest of eastern Europe would be simply a matter of time.

Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant: Entry of Sultan Mohammed II in Constantinople

For many years before Byzantium fell, the Turks had mixed freely with Christians, even in some cases inter-marrying. While they were on friendly terms with the Eastern Emperor, sometimes lending him troops, and so forth, yet they continually annexed Imperial territories in Asia Minor, and cities in Thrace. The last of the Greek Emperors, Constantine XI, reigned from 1448 to 1453, and he employed the few years of his reign in a desperate struggle against the Turks under their formidable leader Mohammed II, “the Conqueror.”

In 1453 Byzantine fell, after a long siege. The previous year, when Turkish hosts first threatened the city, the Emperor sent an urgent appeal for help to all Christendom, but it fell upon deaf ears. In his anxiety, Constantine offered to comply with the Roman Church on many controversial points, and this offended some of the Greeks, who declared they would rather see “the turbans of infidels in S. Sophia than a cardinal’s red hat.”

Constantine realized the danger, but western Europe was apathetic. Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) sent a few mercenary troops, but they were of little avail. The Turkish Janissaries soon made breaches in the city walls, and in the north-west angle of the city two whole towers and the curtain wall connecting them, were demolished by Turkish artillery. The Emperor fought heroically among his men, and fell with them. His body was so mutilated that he could only be recognized by the Imperial golden eagles on his mail shoes. With his death, resistance was at an end.

The Sultan Mohammed II rode through the city in triumph, and entered S. Sophia and bade a mullah repeat from the pulpit the Moslem creed. “So the cry that god was great and Mohammed his prophet rang through the dome where thirty generations of patriarchs had celebrated the Holy Mysteries.” (“The Byzantine Empire” by Charles Oman, pp. 349-350 – https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37756/37756-h/37756-h.html#toc35 )

Not satisfied with the conquest of Byzantium, the Sultan began to turn his attention to the west, and by slow degrees to extend his influence. He coveted Rome, and as a first step he captured Otranto in South Italy. Had he not died suddenly in 1481, at the height of his power, it is impossible to tell what his ambition might not have led him to achieve.

Mohammed II was an enlightened ruler, and did what he could to conciliate his Greek subjects. His successors continued his policy of extending Turkish power eastwards and southwards to Armenia and Egypt, but none of them aspired, as he did, to Rome.

Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520-1566.—This ruler was the most striking, and the most powerful, of all the successors of Mohammed II. He was acknowledged Caliph of the whole of Islam, for he conquered the territories of Bagdad and Algiers, and added them to his dominions. Suleiman also extended his power at the expense of Europe, acquiring the greater part of Hungary.

The Battle of Lepanto from 7 October 1571, a naval engagement between allied Christian forces and the Ottoman Turks.

After his death, the Pope, Venice, and King Philip II of Spain (1558-1598) formed a Holy League against the Turks, and in the sea battle of Lepanto in 1571, they won a decided victory. further wars between Venice and the Turks were indecisive, for the successors of Suleiman were in no way comparable to him, and lacked energy, ability, and enterprise.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, however, the Turks again invaded Hungary, and even laid siege to Vienna. But they had reckoned without the Poles, who, under their splendid king John Sobieski, came to the rescue. The Poles advanced to the Danube, and in 1683 they routed the Turks in a fierce battle before the very gates of Vienna. The Turks retreated in confusion, discomfited, and never again did they venture so far into Europe. With the raising of the siege of Vienna, the chapter of Turkish aggression in Europe is, for the present, closed.

Office clerk.

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