Cooperation between the Ottomans and various Christian groups and individuals started as early as the beginning of the 14th century, when the Ottoman state itself emerged. The Ottomans, although a Muslim polity, did not hesitate to cooperate with Christians for practical reasons. Nevertheless, the misreading of the Ghaza (Holy War) literature1 and the consequent romanticization of the Ottomans' struggle in carrying the banner of Islam conceal the true nature of relations between Muslims and Christians. Rather than an inevitable conflict, what prevailed was cooperation in which cultural, ethnic, and religious boundaries seemed to disappear.
The Ottomans came into contact and allied themselves with Christians on two levels. Firstly, Christian allies of the Ottomans were individuals; the Ottomans employed a number of Christians in their service, mostly, but not always, after they had converted. It should not be forgotten that the Ottomans established their rule primarily in the Christian Balkans, and that their pragmatism and the complex ethno-religious composition of the frontiers persuaded them to resort to using the service of Christians as a means of integration. The Christians were instrumental in the early successes of the Ottoman Empire2, and the Ottomans did not remain an alienated caste of rulers, but tried to incorporate local elements into their government in an effort to maximize the efficiency of their rule. In addition to local elements, they did not hesitate to rely on the expertise of, and offer contracts to, foreign Christians whenever it suited their interests. Secondly, the Ottomans had a number of Christian allies on the state level. They did not necessarily fight with their Christian neighbours all the time. The Grand Strategy of the Ottoman Empire evolved more around strategic, logistical, and pragmatic calculations than religious convictions, which enabled them to contract alliances and marriages, and make treaties with Christian polities.3
Christians in the Service of the Ottomans
In the multicultural environment of the northwestern Anatolian marches, the early successes of the Ottomans lay in their ability to mobilize, and in time to assimilate, local Christian elites, whose cooperation facilitated Ottoman rule in the region. Two of the most famous of these elite families that played an important part in early Ottoman history were the Mihaloğulları and Evrenosoğulları. The founder of the first, Köse Mihal (d. c. 1340) was a member of the Byzantine feudal aristocracy,4 and that of the second, Evrenos Beğ (d. 1417) was of either Greek or Catalan/Aragonese origin.5 Ironically, the descendants of the two families became hereditary commanders of the akıncı ("raider") groups that were assigned the task of raiding enemy territory by conducting Ghaza, Holy War, in the name of Islam.
The Ottomans, on the periphery of the Islamic world, had to import soldiers and bureaucrats from the Muslim countries in the East. This dearth of personnel of their own facilitated the penetration of Christian elements into the Ottoman state structure. Apart from the establishment of certain akındjı families within the Ottoman system, the Ottomans formed other institutions to employ Christians within the Ottoman state apparatus, the most prominent of which was the devşirme ("levy") system. In an effort to provide the central government with a loyal military corps, rather than the frontier warriors of questionable loyalty, the Ottomans gathered young boys from Christian villages and assimilated them into the devşirme system.6 After completing their education, as a part of which they learnt Turkish and the religion of Islam, they would be assigned to military and administrative posts. As part of the Sultan's household, their loyalty was ensured by their lack of the independence and family ties that their Muslim counterparts enjoyed. In time, the devşirme faction grew strong enough to prevail over the Turco-Muslim faction and to dominate Ottoman politics. From the mid-15th to the mid-17th century, when the system was abolished, only eleven out of 78 Ottoman Grand Viziers were of Turkish origin, while the rest were devşirme with the following ethnic backgrounds: Bosnian, Croatian, Armenian, Greek, Italian, Hungarian, Circassian, Georgian, Pomak, and Abkhazian.7
Some of the high-ranking devşirme-based officials came from prominent Christian families. Hass Murad Pasha (d. 1468) and his younger brother Mesih Pasha (d. 1501) were nephews of the last Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Paleologos (1404–1453), while the longest-serving Grand Vizier of Mehmed II (1432–1481), Mahmud Pasha (d. 1474),8 belonged to the Serbian family of Angelović, who were also related to the Byzantine nobility.9 The Ottomans did not use only the Byzantine aristocracy. Wherever they conquered a new region, they tried to conserve the old system of taxation and administration as well as integrate local elites into their own administration.10 These families facilitated the transition to Ottoman rule, and in return, the Ottomans rewarded them handsomely. Some were forced into conversion, like the son of the Bulgarian czar Constantine II (c. 1370–1422), whom Bayezid I (1354–1403) executed.11 However, some favoured the system for its material benefits. For instance, Bosnians, after converting en masse in 1463, petitioned that their children should nevertheless be eligible for the devşirme.12 Some elite families also considered it beneficial to entrust their sons to the devşirme system, so that they could preserve their privileged status. Several Grand Viziers, such as Rum Mehmed Pasha (d. 1474/1475), Gedik Ahmed Pasha (d. 1482), Hersekzâde Ahmed Pasha (1456–1517), Dukakinzâde Ahmed Pasha (d. 1514), and Hadım Sinan Pasha (d. 1517), were of aristocratic lineage. The most famous example is still Mehmed Sokolović (ca. 1505–1579), who increased his family's fortunes by placing family members in influential positions. His nepotism was such that he even reestablished the Peć Patriarchate in north-western Kosovo and appointed either his brother or nephew as its first Patriarch.13 Finally, the Ottomans also kept young nobles captured in war to incorporate them into their administrative apparatus, such as Djighâlâzâde Yusuf Sinan Pasha (c. 1545–1605), a member of the aristocratic Genoese family Cicala. He and his father, a famous corsair in the service of the Habsburgs, were captured in 1561. Even though the father was ransomed, his son was not released and was instead inducted into the Ottoman palace school, Enderûn.14 He became an important statesman holding several offices including the Grand Vizirate (1596), and the Grand Admiralty (1591–1595, 1599–1604) as well as being twice a son-in-law to the Ottoman dynasty.15
Another way Christian nobles came into contact with the Ottoman world was through the Ottoman practice of forcing their Christian vassals to give their sons as hostages. There were two advantages for the Ottomans in doing this: first, they could use these young princes against their fathers if the latter neglected their obligations to the Ottomans. Second, these future Ottoman vassals, growing up in the Christian enclave of the Ottoman court, became familiar with Ottoman culture and administration. Four sons of Carlo Tocco I (1370–1429), the despot of Epirus, two sons of Vlad Dracul (ca. 1390–1447), the voivode of Wallachia, (one of who became the infamous Vlad Ţepeş, Vlad the Impaler (ca. 1431–1476), on whom the literary figure of Dracula was based), and the Albanian national hero, George Kastriota (ca. 1405–1468), known as Scanderbeg, along with his three brothers, are but a few examples. The last-mentioned, son of a local ruler in Albania, was raised in the Ottoman palace, converted to Islam and received his Muslim name, İskender. After graduating from the palace school and proving himself to be an able commander, he was given a prebend in his native land, Albania, where he eventually turned against the Ottomans.16
While recruitment to the devşirme system entailed conversion, at the provincial level, Christians could find employment in the Ottoman military while preserving their religion.17 They were generally used as auxiliary forces; however, they also existed within the more prestigious tîmâr system, a system of prebends under which land was granted for a limited term in exchange for military service.18 Furthermore, the Ottoman army contained several contingents of their Christian vassals, situated on the left flank of the army where the Rumili askeri, "the Balkan soldiers", stood. These Christians fought well: at the Battle of Ankara (1402), the Serbian contingent under the Serbian Knez, Stefan Lazarević (1374–1427), fought longer than most of the Muslim soldiers, who either changed sides or fled.19
There were Christians in the navy as well. We do not know much about the early Ottoman navy. According to the scattered information in western sources, however, we do know that the Ottomans employed Christians in their fleets as early as the 15th century. In 1416, the Venetian admiral Pietro Loredan (ca. 1482–1570) encountered Genovese, Sicilians and Catalans among the captured Ottoman sailors.20 One can find more examples among the Ottoman corsairs in North Africa. Operating between two civilizations, mutatis mutandis, these frontier warriors resembled the early Ottoman ghazîs21 because of their tolerant nature and the cosmopolitan environment in which they operated. They did not hesitate to employ the poor but skilled seamen of the Western Mediterranean islands, especially Sardinia and Corsica, who had no other opportunity to earn a living than by turning to piracy.22 One of the most famous of these corsairs, Giovanni Dionigi Galeni (1519–1587), known as Uluç (Kılıç) 'Alî Pasha, was the son of a Calabrese fisherman. Initially captured by the corsairs, he rose among their ranks and ended his brilliant career as the Ottoman Grand Admiral (1571–1587).23
The Ottomans not only used Christians as soldiers, but also relied on their military, diplomatic, cultural and linguistic expertise. One good example of such reliance can be observed in the Ottoman Arsenal. The Ottomans, in a pragmatic way, chose to rely almost exclusively on Christian expertise in naval affairs. Some of these Christians were slaves and the Ottomans were reluctant to enfranchise them, aware of their contribution. Among those slaves, some converted and started families with local women. As for those who remained Christian, the Ottomans built a lodging named Calabria Nuova.24 The Venetians, the main rivals of the Ottomans in Levantine waters, seriously considered ransoming these slaves, who constituted "the backbone of their [Ottomans'] naval force".25 Furthermore, many Christians, mostly Greeks from the Aegean islands under Venetian control, voluntarily served in the Ottoman Arsenal, much to the dismay of the Venetians. The latter went to great lengths to prevent the exodus of these poor Christians into the Ottoman service, without success.
The Ottomans employed Christians for their technical expertise in the army as well. A number of German, Hungarian, Slavic, French, Venetian, Genoese, Spanish, Sicilian, and English military experts such as Master Orban (d. 1453), "the Hungarian", and Jörg of Nürnberg served in the Ottoman army and helped the Ottomans in catching up with the new European military technology in firearms and cannonry.26 These foreigners played an even more important part in technology transfer in later centuries, when military reform became the most important concern for the Ottomans.27
Furthermore, the Ottoman palace at times employed a modest number of Christian scientists and artists. Mehmed II, termed by A.D. Mordtmann an "Ost-West Mensch" ("East-West man")28, for instance, showed genuine interest in European sciences and culture and employed renowned Christians in his palace: the geographers Georgios Amyrutzes (1400–1470) and his son Mehmed Bey, the archaeologist Cyriacus of Ancona (ca. 1391–1452), the historians Michael Critoboulos of Imbros (ca. 1410–ca. 1470) and Vincento G. Mario Angiolello (ca. 1451/1452–1525), the painter Gentile Bellini (ca. 1429–1507) and the sculptor Matteo de' Pasti (d. 1467).29 Finally, the Ottomans also benefited from the linguistic and cultural expertise of their Christian subjects and employed them as translators and diplomats.30
Interestingly enough, there were Europeans outside the Ottoman administrative system who enjoyed considerable influence in the Ottoman capital,31 for example Andrea Gritti (1455–1538) and Alvise (Ludovico) Gritti (1480–1535).32 The former, before becoming a celebrated general and the Doge of Venice (r. 1523–1538), was a grain merchant in Constantinople, where he established crucial contacts with the Ottoman administration. The career of one of his three illegitimate sons, Alvise Gritti, the famous Beyoğlu ("the son of the Doge"), is even more interesting. His fortunes rose to the extent that he befriended both Suleyman I (1494–1566) and his powerful Grand Vizier, İbrahim Pasha (ca. 1493–1536), and tried to have himself crowned King of Hungary by the former's hands. Even though he was murdered by his rivals before he succeeded in his ambitions, he was not the last of his kind. Several other Christians enjoyed tremendous influence in Constantinople: fugitive nobles such as Comte Claude Alexandre de Bonneval, also known as Humbaracı Ahmed Pasha (1675–1747), and Tököly Imre (1657–1705), military experts such as Baron François de Tott (1733–1793) and Graf Helmuth von Moltke (1800–1891), and exiled monarchs such as the Swedish king Charles XII (1682–1718), who took refuge in Constantinople after his defeat by the Russians at Poltava (1709).
The employment of Christians facilitated the transfer of information, ideas and technologies between Europe and the Ottomans. The transfer of scientific knowledge from Europe to the Ottoman Empire and vice versa was limited to a few works such as the famous map of Pîrî Re'îs (1470–1554/1555),33 works of Mustafa Fayzî,34 Kâtib Çelebi (1609–1657),35 and Vasîm 'Abbas,36 as well as a number of translations of European sources.37 Therefore, Christians only played a minor role in this limited transfer until the second half of the 18th century, when European culture and sciences began to penetrate profoundly into the Ottoman Empire.38 Before that date, the actual contribution of Christians was rather to facilitate the direct transfer of European technology, including items of a non-military nature such as the printing press,39 thanks to their familiarity with Western ideas and innovations.
Ottoman Alliances with the Christian States
The idea that the Ottomans were a constant threat to the European states is based on two fallacies. One is the a priori supposition that two alternative cultural entities need definitely clash; therefore, Ottomans must have been in constant conflict with Christian Europe. This assertion can hardly be proven by historical facts, and recent works stress the fact that the Ottomans both cooperated and competed with their Christian rivals.40 The transfer of people, ideas, technologies, and goods, not to mention military alliances and commercial treaties, was the norm most of the time. Even between the most fervent rivals, a mutual understanding existed to a certain extent.
The Ottomans had a "Grand Strategy" when shaping their foreign policy. Documents in the Ottoman archives concerning information-gathering, military provisioning, and strategic planning show how careful the Ottomans were when it came to assessing the capabilities and logistic impediments as well as the possible benefits of military action.41 These calculations established the rational basis of Ottoman foreign policy, rather than one governed by cultural or religious convictions. Indeed, the same held true for Europeans. Not only were they divided among themselves, which hindered concerted action against the Ottomans, but they also sought Ottoman diplomatic and military assistance, seeking their own interests at the expense of the Universitas Christiana.
The second fallacy is not recognizing the Ottoman impact on European diplomacy. Since the Ottomans had a different religion and culture, and an alternative type of government (i.e. despotism),42 they were not considered part of Europe, and their role in European diplomatic history was played down. This attitude has been repeatedly criticized by some historians.43 The Ottomans tried to represent themselves as Europeans, especially when they sought legitimacy in the eyes of their European subjects and reputation among other European states. Some Ottoman Sultans aspired to and perhaps even believed themselves to be Roman Caesars, Kayser-i Rum. The conqueror of Constantinople, Mehmed II, did not hesitate to consider the propaganda that linked the Ottoman and the Komnenos dynasties. Considering himself the true heir to the Roman throne after 1453, he finished off the last remaining enclaves of Byzantine power in Morea and Trebizond. In 1532, Suleyman I responded to the coronation of Charles V (r. 1519–1556) in Bologna two years earlier by wearing a European-style crown and enjoying European-fashion military parades, with European envoys at his side, in Belgrade rather than Constantinople.44 This was obviously part of his propaganda war against the universalist claims of the Habsburg Emperor, to whom the Ottoman chancellery delegated only the title kral ("king"), in total rejection of his imperial status.45
Still, the fact that the Ottomans considered themselves a part of European diplomacy does not suffice to prove that they actually were so. The author does not intend to overlook either the negative image of the Ottomans among the Christians, who considered their Muslim neighbours a constant menace, or the consequent problem of reputation that a Christian ruler would face in an open alliance with the infidel Ottoman Sultan, the greatest threat to Christianity. The constant Ottoman expansion in Europe up to the mid-16th century was responsible for this negative image. The fall of Christian bastions such as Constantinople (1453), Belgrade (1521), Rhodes (1522), Buda (1541) and Cyprus (1571) as well as the siege of others such as Vienna (1529) and Malta (1565) fuelled distrust and fear among the Christians.
Obviously, this negative image had political consequences; it resulted in a number of Crusade expeditions which did not bring military success until 1683, with the notable exception of Lepanto (1571), and hindered, to a certain extent, diplomatic relations between the Ottomans and Christians. However, these obstacles were by no means decisively divisive and irremediable. Christian rulers who realized that the Ottomans could be used against their regional rivals (a long list including Popes) found ways to enter into an alliance with the "infidel", at times at the cost of their own reputation at home. This was especially true of distant Christian states such as France, England, the Netherlands and Sweden; the farther the threat, the lesser the fear. Even those under the constant threat of an Ottoman invasion, say, Italian states in the 15th century, asked for Ottoman help against their regional rivals. In short, in spite of the afore-mentioned obstacles set by perception, rhetoric and propaganda, the Ottomans found themselves part of European diplomacy; a special one for sure, but still a part.
Religious differences created a problem of reputation for the Ottoman Sultans as well. Despite the rational character of Ottoman foreign policy, an overt alliance with infidels still had to be religiously justified. According to some Muslim jurists, there could be peace between a Christian and a Muslim ruler as long as the former recognized the overlordship of the latter and paid tribute to him.46 The Ottomans legalized their vassalage agreements and political alliances with Christian powers until the 19th century, based on this formula. Such agreements were in theory not between equal powers, but rather unilateral concessions on behalf of the Muslim Ruler, i.e. the Ottoman Sultan. The Christian side's submission to the Sultan was explicitly stipulated in the clauses of the 'ahdnâmes.47 Still, there were several exceptions to this claim of superiority, not only in early Ottoman history, as shown by alliances made on a basis of equality and marriages between the Ottomans and other Christian dynasties,48 but also in the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, such as the Treaty of Zitvatoruk (1606),49 which recognized the Habsburg Emperor as the equal of the Ottoman Sultan.50
The early Ottomans pursued a multi-faceted policy towards the Byzantine Empire. Instead of fighting them all the time, the Ottomans contracted alliances with the Byzantine emperors, especially during civil wars, a policy which helped Ottoman raiders to familiarize themselves with the terrain of Thrace, and in the end, conquer it. As the Ottomans conquered all the Byzantine territories save Constantinople, they reduced the Byzantine emperors to sending contingents for the Ottoman army and sometimes even commanding them in person. The Byzantines also provided diplomatic services to the Ottomans; it was the Byzantine emperor, John V Paleologos (1332–1391) who went to Phocaea twice and paid 100,000 ducats to the Genoese to ransom Orkhan's (d. 1362) son, Halil (1347–1362), in 1356. Furthermore, they paid tribute to the Ottomans; Manuel II (1350–1425) even delivered it personally in the Ottoman capital in 1399. The Ottoman Sultans, such as Murad I (1326–1389), who accompanied his stepmother Theodora Kantakouzenos (b. 1332), a Byzantine princess, in 1347, and Mehmed I (1382–1421), who passed from Anatolia to Thrace via the Bosporus, visited Constantinople as well. Byzantine emperors also meddled with Ottoman politics, interfered in Ottoman civil wars, and harboured rebellious Ottoman princes and pretenders in order to use them as political leverage. Ironically, an Ottoman prince, Orhan (d. 1453), died defending Constantinople against the Ottomans in 1453. Finally, we should add the Byzantine reluctance to endorse the Union of Churches as laid down by the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence (1431–1445). As the last Megas Doux ("Grand Duke"), Loukas Notaras (d. 1453) noted, the Byzantines preferred the Muslim turban in Constantinople to the Latin mitre. The Byzantine Church seemed to have benefited from Ottoman rule, under which it operated relatively freely. In 1454, Mehmed II appointed the chief enemy of the Union, Georgios Scholarios (ca. 1400–ca. 1473), as the Patriarch of Constantinople, Gennadios II, upon whom rested not only ecclesiastical, but also civil authority (e.g. collecting taxes, solving legal disputes, etc.) over the Roman-Orthodox millet in the Empire. He was to act as an intermediary between the Ottoman administration and the Orthodox community. Under the structure of the Orthodox Church, therefore, the Byzantine elites could hold on to their privileged status.51 Furthermore, merchants and bankers, such as Mikhael Kantakouzenos in the 16th century, amassed fortunes, while Graecophone Phanariot52 families managed to have themselves appointed as hospodars ("governor") and replaced the local voivodas in Wallachia and Moldavia in the 18th century.
The Ottomans found further allies in the Balkans. The politically fragmented Balkans helped the Ottomans' advance by giving them the opportunity to play off one Christian power against another. The latter not only allied with the Ottomans, but also invited them to intervene in their civil wars. The Ottomans first established a bond of vassalage and requested military contingents as well as a tribute before gradually incorporating these principalities and their ruling elites into the Empire.53 By the end of the 14th century, the Ottomans had established a solid network of vassals, which allowed them to consolidate their rule in the Balkans. Bayezid I gathered all his vassals in Serez in 1393, some of whom, like Stefan Lazarević (1374–1427), fought with the Ottomans against the crusaders in 1396. Even during the eleven-year interregnum (1402–1413) following the Ottoman defeat against the Timûrîs, most of them remained loyal to the Ottomans. There were also vassal states that were never fully incorporated into the empire and kept their autonomy. The Republic of Ragusa (Ott. Dubrovnik), the Danubian principalities Wallachia and Moldavia, (Ott. Eflâk and Boğdân, together also known as Memleketeyn), and the kingdom of Transylvania (Ott. Erdel) were the most important ones. 54 These had varying obligations to the Ottoman Empire: they provided resources, raw materials, agricultural products and soldiers, paid tributes, gathered information, and functioned as a buffer between the Ottomans and their Christian rivals. To strengthen the control over their vassals, the Ottomans attached a janissary regiment to their entourage, preserved the final word in their election, played local factions off against each other and fortified strategic positions, the garrisons of which were paid by the locals. To a certain extent, the system worked, even though the Ottomans had to endure their vassals' volte-face during critical times such as the Long War of 1593–1606.
The Ottomans came into contact with the Italian maritime states when they reached the Aegean shore, where the Genoese and the Venetians maintained several colonies. Rivalry between these two and the Byzantines allowed the Ottomans to ally with both Genoa and Venice. The earliest Ottoman-Genoese alliance against the Byzantines and the Venetians dates back to the mid-14th century. The first treaty regulating matters such as commercial rights and the exchange of captives was signed in 1387.55 The Genoese transported Ottoman troops across the Dardanelles in 1402, when the latter were fleeing from the approaching army of Timûr (1336–1405), in 1422, and again in 1444, during one of the most difficult episodes of Ottoman history, when the Ottoman armies were stuck in Anatolia while a crusader army was approaching and frontier warlords were defying central authority.56 The Genoese colony even took the liberty of offering to carve the insignia of Murad II (ca. 1403–1451) on the Christea Turris, the Genoese tower in the citadel of Galata, facing Constantinople, in exchange for construction material.57
Despite the inevitable political tension in Ottoman-Venetian relations and the several wars fought between them, peace and cooperation generally prevailed.58 The Ottoman expansion and the simultaneous Venetian contraction in the Eastern Mediterranean did not prevent the two sides from cooperating. The Venetians were the first state to establish permanent diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire. Both sides signed several treaties and exchanged several ambassadors.59 Venice had a unique position in the West until the 16th century: relying on a network of diplomatic representatives, spies and merchants in several Ottoman cities, Venice was the only source for states trying to acquire information regarding the Ottomans.60 To increase the quality of their intelligence and diplomatic representation, the Venetians even established a language school, Giovani di Lingua, in the residence of their representative, bailo, in Constantinople in 1551.61
The possibility of military cooperation between the Ottomans and the Venetians also came to the fore. For instance, in July 1509, in the aftermath of the Battle of Agnadello, the Venetian Senate considered asking the Ottomans for military assistance against Louis XII of France (1462–1515).62 The Venetians were repeatedly accused of inviting the Ottomans to Europe and criticized for not joining Holy Alliances against the Ottomans.63 Their ambivalent relationship with the Ottomans can probably be attributed to their reliance on trade with the Levant as well as Ottoman grain. This Venetian dependence and the reluctance to take up arms against the Ottomans could be the basic calculation behind the Ottomans' dispatch of an ambassador to Venice and demand for the surrender of Cyprus in 1570. Refusing the offer after serious debates in the Senate, the Venetians still did not join the Holy Alliance until the Habsburgs opened the Sicilian granaries to them. Moreover, despite the crushing Christian victory at Lepanto in 1571, the Venetians pushed for a prompt peace in 1573, accepting the loss of Cyprus, agreeing to pay a war indemnity, and leaving their allies frustrated. Finally, it should be added that both sides shared a common concern after the Portuguese arrived in the Indian Ocean, as the detour of spice trade routes affected them both.
To a lesser degree, other Italian states resorted to Ottoman assistance and used the Ottoman threat as leverage in diplomatic relations. Most of the proposed alliances failed to materialize because of logistical difficulties and the consequent problem of harmonizing military action. However, contemporaries still took the possibility of Ottoman involvement in the Italian Wars very seriously, and used it as leverage in diplomatic relations.
The Milanese considered the Ottomans a useful tool in fulfilling their diplomatic objectives in the late 14th and 15th centuries. In 1395, the dislike of the Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo (1351–1402), for the French moved him to inform the Ottomans about the approaching crusader army, which included several leading French nobles,64 while his grandson Filippo Maria Visconti (1392–1447) tried to persuade the Ottomans to attack Venice in 1421.65 Ludovico Sforza (1452–1508), in the last decade of the 15th century, sent several ambassadors to the Ottoman Sultan, and promised to fight against the Venetians in exchange for military assistance.66
The kings of Naples also developed good relations with the Ottomans. Starting from 1487, Ferdinand I (1423–1494), in order to protect himself from the raids of the Ottomans along Neapolitan coasts, informed them about papal plans concerning the Ottoman prince Djem (1459–1495), at that time a hostage in Rome.67 In 1489, there was an Ottoman envoy accompanying the Neapolitan diplomatic mission to France.68 The Neapolitans also used their alliance with the Ottomans as a threat and announced it publicly in 1495, when they were worried about the French descent into Italy.69 A Neapolitan ambassador even explicitly threatened the Venetians with inviting Ottoman soldiers to the Peninsula,70 and there were rumours in Venice that they offered Otranto, Taranto and Brindisi if the Ottomans could conquer Venetian territories in Puglia for them.71 Even after the kingdom fell to foreign rule, both the aristocracy and the towns did not hesitate to call for Ottoman assistance when they felt oppressed.72
Furthermore, the Ottomans entertained friendly relations with the Duke of Mantua, Federico II Gonzaga (1500–1540),73 invited Emanuele Filiberto (1528–1580), the Duke of Savoy, to lay claims to Venetian Cyprus,74 and considered an alliance with the Florentines against the Genoese by helping the rebellious Corsicans,75 whose leader, Sampiero de Bastelica (1498–1567), was lobbying in Constantinople at the time.76 Even popes followed this practice and took up diplomatic relations with the Infidel Sultan.77
An especially effective alliance was that between France and the Ottomans. French kings, in their capacity of Rex Christianissimus, had resorted to crusade propaganda and had almost undertaken one in 1495.78 The rise of the Habsburgs in Europe and the capture of the French king Francis I (1494–1547) at the battle of Pavia (1525) initiated a long period of cooperation between the two states. Both sides exchanged intelligence, tried to develop a shared strategy and cooperated militarily. French forces helped the Ottomans at the siege of Corfu in 1537, while the Ottoman fleet wintered in Toulon in 1543 and 1544 after the failed siege of Nice,79 and undertook joint military operations with the French fleet in the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas in the 1550s. The Ottomans granted France capitulations in 1569,80 and helped the election of a French prince, Henri de Valois (1551–1589), the future Henry III, to the throne of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1573.81 Good relations continued in the next century, as both sides still had a common enemy in the Habsburgs. The war of 1683–1699 between the Ottomans and the Holy League of the Habsburgs, Venice, Poland, the Papal States and Russia, coincided with the war between France and the Habsburgs in 1688 and 1697. France also played the role of diplomatic middleman between the Ottomans and its Christian enemies. In 1724, it helped arrange a diplomatic treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, while the French ambassador was to be the main protagonist during the negotiations for the Belgrade Treaty of 1739. Almost until Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, with some exceptions, the two states enjoyed a warm relationship.
One of the foremost objectives of the Ottoman Grand Strategy in Europe was to prevent a Holy Alliance. The hard-won battles of Varna (1444) and of Kosovo (1448), the defeat at Lepanto (1571), and the disastrous Polish–Ottoman War (1683–1699) proved the soundness of this policy. The Ottomans tried to keep Christian Europe divided; to this end, they not only sought political allies, but also promoted religious fragmentation in Europe. As soon as Protestantism became a political force and started to challenge the Habsburg hegemony in Europe, the Ottomans decided to take advantage of it. In the 16th century, they exchanged letters with Protestant factions in the Holy Roman Empire,82 France,83 and the Low Countries.84 They furthermore supported Henri de Navarre's (future Henry IV, 1553–1610) bid for the French throne and in 1577 promised to send the Ottoman fleet to the help of the French Protestants in the South (Midi).85 The anti-Habsburg policies of Elizabeth I (1533–1603) also created an Anglo-Ottoman rapprochement, as a result of which England was given promises of military assistance and was awarded with a commercial treaty.86 This cooperation continued in the 17th century as well. At the onset of the Thirty Years' War, delegations from the Bohemian and Hungarian Estates, as well as an envoy of the Calvinist Friedrich V of the Palatinate (1596–1632), pretender to the Bohemian throne, were in Constantinople seeking military assistance against the Habsburgs. Even though the Ottomans did not directly attack the Habsburg lands, they sent an ambassador to Prague, attacked Habsburgs' ally Poland, and encouraged their vassal, the Prince of Transylvania Bethlen Gábor (1580–1629), to invade Habsburg territories.87
On the eastern front, the Ottomans entered into alliances and established bonds of vassalage with local warlords, some of whom were Christians. Pressurized by both the Ottomans and the Safavîs, these warlords tried to preserve their independence by playing two powers off against each other, while, for the Ottomans, their cooperation was crucial for both diplomatic and military reasons during their wars with the Safavîs.
With the emergence of the Eastern Question, and the problem of how to dismantle the Ottoman Empire without upsetting the fragile balance of power between the European states, the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire became an international problem. In its last century, the Ottoman Empire tried to preserve itself by playing one European power off against another, as well as receiving help in its modernization efforts. The Great Powers in turn fought for influence in Constantinople and, at least until 1878, tried to maintain the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. To this end, in 1840 Russia and Britain intervened on behalf of the Ottomans against the rebellious governor of Egypt, Muhammad 'Alî (1769–1849); France, Britain and Sardinia-Piedmont fought against the Russians in the Crimean War (1853–1856); and the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) convened the Berlin Congress in 1878 in order to overturn Russia's unilateral gains following the 1877–1878 war. Finally, the increased German influence in the last years of the Empire persuaded the Ottomans to enter the World War.
Resident embassies that European powers established in Constantinople as well as other important cities were important centres of transfer which fostered trade by taking care of their merchants, provided their homeland with regular reports about not only political events, but also cultural and religious peculiarities of Ottoman society,88 established contacts with Ottoman subjects whom they employed in the embassies and fed the Ottomans with selective information about events and developments in Europe - needless to say, when and as far as this suited their diplomatic objectives. Some of their personnel developed an impressive familiarity with Ottoman culture and society, and penned important works in the 19th century. Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774–1856), an officer in the Austrian embassy in Constantinople, translated Ottoman manuscripts and wrote several books on Ottoman culture and history.89 Ignatius Mouradgea d'Ohsson (1740–1807), an Ottoman Armenian in the service of the Swedish embassy, wrote extensively on the culture, religion, and administration of the Ottoman Empire.90 His son Constantine (1779–1851) wrote works on the history of the Mongols and the peoples of the Caucasus.91
Even though they did not establish resident embassies until the end of the 18th century, the Ottomans still made use of the open channels of diplomacy to acquire information about the Christian world. In 1721, the Ottoman ambassador to France, Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi (d. 1732) was ordered not only to fulfil political goals, but also to obtain detailed information about France. In travel accounts (sefaretnâme) written by the Ottoman ambassadors, which were quite popular reading among the Ottoman elite, there were details about not only government, the military and technology, but also the arts, culture, daily life, architecture, manners and fashions of Christian Europe. It was no coincidence that Mehmed Çelebi's son, Sa'îd Çelebi (d. 1761), who accompanied him to France, later helped İbrahim Müteferrika's (1674–1745) efforts to establish the printing press.
Christian participation in the Ottoman Empire, as well as Ottoman alliances with Christian powers, proved that pragmatism persuaded the Ottomans to make use of the Christians around them.
The Ottomans built their empire in northwestern Anatolia and the Balkans, where they found themselves encircled by their Christian subjects. This persuaded them to treat their Christian subjects relatively well and to establish a policy of appeasement in order to facilitate Ottoman rule (İstimâlet). In their dhimmi ("protected") status, Christians in the Ottoman Empire generally enjoyed security and peace, at least until the 19th century. The Ottomans employed Christians and incorporated them into the Ottoman elite, which consisted of families from diverse ethno-religious backgrounds. In short, albeit a Muslim polity, the Ottomans were also one with many Christian subjects, whom they were determined to make use of.
The Ottomans also developed a rational strategy when it came to dealing with Christian states. As an empire built in the Christian Balkans, the Ottomans' relations with their Christian counterparts did not entail irreconcilable conflict. Diplomatic alliances, military cooperation, and trade agreements created a modus vivendi between the Ottomans and Europe, under which ideas, goods, and technologies flowed with greater ease than previously thought possible. This flow gained unprecedented momentum in the 19th century, when the modernization/westernization efforts, which started with the military and were undertaken in an effort to halt the decline of the Empire vis-à-vis its European counterparts, gradually encompassed all aspects of Ottoman administrative, cultural and societal routines. European administrative practices, political ideas, as well as cultural elements such as clothing, education, languages, or art forms were infused into the classical Ottoman system, which was radically and decisively changed and westernized.