The Ottoman Conquest of the Balkans. Interpretations and Research Debates

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Date: June 2018
Publisher: Akademiai Kiado
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,040 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

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OLIVER JENS SCHMITT (ed.): The Ottoman Conquest of the Balkans. Interpretations and Research Debates. Wien, Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2016 (Sitzungsberichte der Philosophisch-Historischen Klasse, 872) 289 pp. ISBN 978-3-7001-7890-3.

This publication emerged from the papers presented at a namesake conference, organised by the Institute of Eastern European History of the University of Vienna in November 2013. According to its editor, Oliver Jens Schmitt, Professor of South-East European history at Vienna University, it aims to open and structure a new heuristic approach and co-ordinate a field of studies that is of crucial importance for understanding the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.

The voluminous introductory study--written by O. J. Schmitt, titled The Ottoman Conquest of the Balkans. Research Questions and Interpretations (pp. 7-46)--addresses several key dimensions in the process of the Ottoman conquests: their social and cultural consequences and varying, frequently conflicting, historical narratives and interpretations. The author discusses the meanings of the general terms such as conquest, transition or integration in a particular context, accentuates the role of specific social and confessional groups, and emphasises the lack of collaboration between various disciplines and historiographical schools. In addition, he provides sketches for future research in the fields of military and political history, changes in culture and demography, continuity in administration and the integration of the local Balkan elites. Some of these important and touchy issues are discussed in detail by other contributors in this volume.

Besides the critical introduction, the book includes nine studies written by ten specialists coming from the fields of Oriental, Ottoman, Mediterranean, Byzantine and Balkan Mediaeval studies. They are presented in the following order: Maurus Reinkowski: Conquests Compared. The Ottoman Expansion in the Balkans and the Mashreq in an Islamicate context (pp. 47-64); Toni Filiposki: Before and After the Battle of Maritsa (1371): The Significance of the Non-Ottoman Factors in the Ottoman Conquest of the Balkans (pp. 65-78); Mariya Kiprovska: Ferocious Invasion or Smooth Incorporation? Integrating the Established Balkan Military System into the Ottoman Army (pp. 79-102); Grigor Boykov: The Human Cost of Warfare: Population Loss During the Ottoman Conquest and the Demographic History of Bulgaria in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Era (pp. 103-166); Tijana Krstic: New Directions in the Study of Conversion to Islam in Ottoman Rumeli between the Fourteenth and the Seventeenth Centuries: Reconsidering Methods, Theories and Terminology (pp. 167-188); Andrei Pippidi: Taking Possession of Wallachia: Facts and Interpretations (pp. 189-208); Stefan S. Gorovei--Maria Magdalena Szekely: Old Questions, Old Cliches. New Approaches, New Results? The Case of Moldavia (pp. 209-242); Dubravko Lovrenovic: The Ottoman Conquest of Bosnia in 1463 as Interpreted by Bosnian Franciscan Chroniclers and Historiographers (A Historic(al) Event with Political and Psychological Ramifications that Are Still Present Today) (pp. 243-264); Ovidiu Cristea: Venice Confronting the Ottoman Empire: A Struggle for Survival (Fourteenth--Sixteenth Centuries) (pp. 265-280). The book is furnished with a political map of the Balkans at the beginning of the fifteenth century (p. 45), and a general index covering places, historical persons and modern authors mentioned in the texts (pp. 281-289).

The contributions in this volume include an overview of the Ottoman conquests of the Balkans in a comparative frame with Syria and Egypt (Reinkowski), manifestations of the process of the conquest in the politically fragmented Balkan landscape (Filiposki), case studies of resistance in the Danubian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (Pippidi, Gorovei--Szekely), an overview of the Ottoman--Venetian relations in the Aegeans and the Black Sea region (Cristea), continuities in local administration and military institutions (Kiprovska), research of demographic trends in the Bulgarian lands during the first centuries of the Ottoman rule (Boykov), memories of the conquest reflected in the Christian tradition in Bosnia (Lovrenovic) and the problems of confessional identities and the inclusion of new members in the Islamic community (Krstic). They offer an extensive and critical overview of historiography, the source materials and are based on up-todate research. This is important to note, as the majority of the materials published in the Balkan countries is not easily accessible to or usable for the historians not fluent in Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Greek, Romanian or Albanian. Inevitably, some of the important aspects of the conquests are omitted, including, but not limited to, the status and the destiny of the local Orthodox ecclesiastical structures under the first decades of the Ottoman rule, the displacement of the population during the conquests and the mass migrations in the direction south-north, from the South Slavic lands to the Kingdom of Hungary.

Taken as a whole, the volume offers a comprehensive insight into the limitations and challenges of the studies of Early Ottoman history, methodological problems, recent trends, as well as the current directions and priorities in research. In some studies, one can notice a visible tendency towards (hyper)criticism and 'deconstruction' of the mainstream narratives in the Balkan countries (Kiprovska, Boykov), which is a reflection of the continuous scholarly (and not only scholarly) discussions in Bulgaria on the consequences of the conquests. Several others are focused on the geographic areas and political formations, generally not considered part of the Balkans, such as Wallachia, Moldavia or the Black Sea region (Pippidi, Gorovei--Szekely, Cristea). Nonetheless, they have a due place in this volume, as they provide a valuable addition to understanding the mechanisms of the spread of the Ottoman state, and their impact on European or Mediterranean history.

The scope and contents of this volume are primarily intended for the narrow circle of specialists. Therefore, it is not, and should not serve, as a textbook for the history of the Balkans during the second half of the 14th and the first half of the following century. Yet, for its potential audience--the students who pursue Ottoman studies, as well as their colleagues belonging to the other fields of research--this volume would be undoubtedly a welcome addition. It is a meticulous scholarly treatment of a long-term historical phenomenon, aimed to both contrast and reconcile historiographic trends, narratives, interpretations and its particular aspects in one place. According to Schmitt, "Byzantine studies, Ottoman studies, Eastern Mediterranean studies and national historiographies in the Balkan countries have yet to establish either a coherent collaboration or a consistent model of interpretation" of the Ottoman conquests, and this publication can indeed be considered as one of the essential steps towards that goal.

DOI: 10.1556/062.2018.71.2.8

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A542968629