The Battle of Ankara in 1402 halted the Ottoman advance into Europe and improved the bleak prospects for the Byzantine Empire. The fall of Constantinople to the enemies of Christendom seemed almost certain until unexpected catastrophe for the Turks occurred on the plains of Anatolia. The defeat of Sultan Bayezid the Thunderbolt by Mongol forces led by Timur, also known as Tamerlane, breathed another half-century of life in to the declining Byzantine Empire.
By 1402 the situation in Constantinople was desperate. Ottoman focres had held the city under siege for the past eight years. Byzantine Emperor Manuel II had spent the past two and a half years treating with the leaders of Catholic Europe trying to obtain help to breathe new life into his dying Empire. Despite having traveled as far as London, where he met with King Henry IV in 1400, he had little to show for his efforts. Time was of the essence as the Ottoman noose tightened around the Byzantine capital and it increasingly seemed as if the Emperor would never again see his homeland. Constantinople stood on the brink of capitulation. But just when things looked their bleakest, the relief that Manuel II had desperately sought arrived like manna from heaven. Mongol forces led by Tamerlane had steadily advanced westward and now threatened the vibrant empire of the Ottomans. This forced Bayezid to lift the siege of the Byzantine capital and set out to meet the invaders.
On July 28, 1402, the armies of Tamerlane and Bayezid met in battle on the Chubuk plain near Ankara. Ottoman chronicler Orudj bin Adil recorded that when Bayezid set out to confront Tamerlane, “he brought with him numerous soldiers, among them akingi and Cerahori [mercenaries], as well as soldiers from Wallachia. He gathered the army of Laz and the Serbian one, also taking along Laz-oglu [Stephen Lazarevich].” This well-informed Ottoman chronicler, who was born around the time of these events, clearly distinguishes between the Wallachian and Serbian troops in the Sultan’s army, thus providing convincing evidence that Wallachian Prince Mircea the Old (1386-1418), grandfather of the historical Dracula, sent a contingent to fight alongside the Ottomans at Ankara. Fierce fighting ensued. Tamerlane’s forces managed to trap the Ottoman army, cutting off their water supply. Valiant attempts led by the Sultan’s Serbian and Wallachian allies to break out ultimately failed.
The battle resulted in an overwhelming victory for Tamerlane. Bayezid himself fell captive and in one swift blow the Mongol ruler brought the mighty Ottoman Empire to its knees. Byzantine chronicler Laonikos Chalkokondyles could only explain the shocking Turkish defeat by saying that “Bayezid, having achieved unmeasured power, was humbled by God so that he would not continue with thoughts of such great power.” The blockade of Constantinople dissipated almost immediately. Tamerlane’s victory postponed the fall of Byzantium to the Turks for another half a century. Bayezid committed suicide in captivity in March of the following year and a civil war broke out among his sons, each of whom sought to impose his rule over remnants of the Empire. This left Wallachian prince Mircea the Old to play the role of kingmaker in sourtheastern Europe. Meanwhile, Emperor Manuel II, having received the welcome news of the Ottoman defeat while in Paris, made his way back to the imperial capital. He arrived back in Constantinople in June 1403, still hopeful that a concerted Christian military effort could be organized to finish off the Turks.
For more on the battle of Ankara and its aftermath see, Mircea the Old: Father of Wallachia, Grandfather of Dracula by A.K. Brackob, available at Amazon and at HistriaBooks.com.
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