VOL. 30 [177]

december 2019

Publishing: «Runivers»

ISSN 2306-4978

Pages: 332

Heirs of Bysantium

After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and the last remnants of the Byzantium in the following years, a new victorious power declared itself to be the heir to the fallen Empire. It was the Ottoman State. The Ottoman sultans embraced the title of Kaysser (Caesar) as well as Shahan Shah («King of Kings», Basilius Basileon), considering themselves to the legal successors of the Byzantine Emperors and Roman Caesars. The religious connotation for what had happened seemed absolutely logical to the conquerors. An Islamic Rome emerged to replace the Christian one, just like the latter once replaced the Pagan Rome. The Ottoman «Eternal State» (Devleti ebed-i-muddet) continued the imperial tradition of the Roman «Eternal City» and tried to embrace the entirety of the latter’s former territories within its own borders.

Yet several decades later another young and powerful state declared itself to be an heir — if not politically, then at least spiritually and ideologically — to the Second Rome: Muscovite Russia. After the Rurikid dynasty entered into an arranged marriage with the Palaeologoi (the family of the last Emperors of Byzantium) in 1472, Russian intellectual circles started spreading the idea of the Russian Grand Princes’ succession fr om the Byzantine Emperors. In the 16th century these ideas found their incarnation in the «Moscow — Third Rome» doctrine, as well as in the coronation and anointing rituals. Just like with the Ottomans, these events had a religious dimension: within the Russian context, Byzantium lost its primacy in the Christian world after the Union of Florence in 1439.

Inspired by perception of their unique historic mission, both states continued to expand their borders (a process that began as early as the 14th century). The dynamics and vectors in the development of both — the Ottoman and the Russian empires — clearly exhibit certain parallels. Starting out in the second half of the 13th century as a small beylik in northwestern Anatolia and an insignificant principality of northeastern Russia, these states began to quickly expand in the following century, bringing the surrounding regions under their sway. In the second half of the 15th century the expansion of both — Istanbul and Moscow — takes on a new scale. By the end of the 16th century up to 25 million people populated the dominion of the Ottoman sultans, and up to 10 million people — the realm of Russian czars. The geopolitical ambitions of the two empires brought about the first clash of their forces: first — during the war of 1568–70 near Astrakhan and in the Volga-Don steppes, and then in 1572 during the Battle at Molodi, near Moscow, where a numerous detachment of the Janissaries supported the campaign of the Crimean Khan.

This was the first of the 12 wars between the two states. The logic of imperial expansion brought together the borders of both states, each of which saw itself as the true successor to Byzantium. The religious and ideological tradition fired this clash with predestined purpose. Within three centuries, between 1568 and 1918, Russia and the Ottoman Empire spent 69 years at war; on average, the military conflicts took place once every 25 years. For the first 150 years the struggle went on with fairly even success for both parties, starting with Ivan IV’s victory over Selim II’s forces in 1569, down to Peter I’s defeat by Ahmed III’s army during the Prut Campaign of 1711. The following five wars which took place between 1735 and 1829 ended in victory for Russian arms. Starting from the middle of the 19th century and up to 1918 the Ottoman Empire — being part of international coalitions — managed to claim victory over the Russians in two wars, and in 1877–1878 it suffered another defeat from Russia after a one-on-one warfare.

The epic armed struggle of the two states often blocks out the long chronicle of Russian-Ottoman cooperation. History knew military alliances between the northern and the southern giants: in 1798–99 their forces fought together against revolutionary France in Greece and Italy, and in 1833 a Russian expeditionary corps stood as a wall of steel, defending Istanbul from the advancing forces of Muhammad Ali of Egypt.

Russian-Ottoman trade relations boast an even longer history. As in any long-distance medieval trade, the most important nomenclature of traded goods were objects of luxury. A special role was occupied by fur goods, which — aside from their direct function — were also state awards in the Ottoman Empire. The German scientist Hedda Reindl- Kiel in her article «Status, Honor and Luxuries: Some Remarks on Material Exchange between Russia and the Ottoman Empire» demonstrates the importance of Russian furs for the top circles of the Istanbul elite, as well as for the entire hierarchical Ottoman society. In the 18th century the exchange of goods found a new direction: Ottoman sultans began to send precious gifts to their northern neighbor, adjusting to a new paradigm of diplomatic relations.

The article of Mahir Aydin, the Professor of the Istanbul University, deals with the change in the geopolitical perspective. Based on a detailed survey of Turkish archives, he demonstrates the evolution of Russia’s image: from the 15th—16th centuries, when the «land of fur coats» and the «heathen Moscovia» did not really trouble the minds of Ottoman statesmen and intellectuals, down to the 19th century when Russia was finally seen as a state of special significance. Far closer attention towards their great southern neighbor was paid in the 16th—17th century by Moscow authorities. One of their main sources of information were the so-called «Questioning Words» by those who made their way back to Russia from Turkish captivity. The Sorbonne Professor Alexander S. Lavrov’s article is dedicated to the study of these documents, as well as the humble petitions of former prisoners. In the «inquisitive speeches», both the answers of the repatriates, as well as the questions of the inquirers are of great interest. The author’s special attention is given to cultural transfers between Russian and Ottoman society, and the role of conductors of practices and perceptions, taken on by the prisoners of war.

Not all Russians found themselves on Ottoman territory against their will. Pilgrims, who wanted to visit and venerate Christian holy sites, also found themselves at the crosshairs of various religions and cultures. Coming back, some of them left written accounts of their pilgrimages. The pilgrimage genre emerged in Russian literature in the 11th century, gaining new popularity in the 17th and full fruition by the 18th. The article by the Professor of the Institute of Asian and African Studies of the MSU — Svetlana S. Kirillina — is dedicated to that last era of pilgrimage literature. Perceiving the Ottoman world through the prism of Orthodox traditions, the pilgrims — after long travels — rarely changed their line of thought or mindset. As a result, Russian society saw the Ottoman state and its Muslim and Christian population through the eyes of these «enchanted wanderers».

A totally different form of Russian-Ottoman relations was shaped on the frontiers — in territories that often turned into battlegrounds. The article by the Professor of the Russian Academy of Science — Ilya V. Zaytsev — allows us to hear the voices of the rank-and-file participants of the sieges of Azov and Ochakov during the Russo- Turkish War of 1735–1739. The songs of the folk genre «turkü» are simple and not that informative, yet they clearly resonate with the spirit of the age, the mood, the fear and the hopes of Ottoman soldiers, who found themselves face to face with the fearsome northern enemy. War and peace on the frontiers of the Christian and Islamic worlds is also the subject of the studies of Polish orientalists: the Professors of the Warsaw University Dariusz Kołodziejczyk and Mariusz Kaczka are responsible for the re discovery of one of the most valuable historical sources — the Hotin Archives of Kolchak-Pasha. This vastest of the surviving provincial Ottoman archives contain a large number of military, political, administrative, trade and everyday life documents, the majority of which were not known to the academic community.

Hotin, along with Kamenets-Podolsk, Buda, Eger became the furthest outposts of the Turkish advance to the Northwest. Overall, despite the strong attack on Europe, the Ottoman society and state were poorly informed about what actually went on beyond its western and northern borders. Until the late 18th century, the Sultan did not have his own representatives in Europe: Ottoman embassies undertook rather irregular missions across the borders. On the contrary, regular diplomatic missions of European countries (including Russia) were stationed in Istanbul and other main trade centers of the Empire. The ambassadors and consuls, along with their subordinates, took on a series of responsibilities, including espionage. One of the most interesting diplomatic residents in the Ottoman capital was, undoubtedly, Alexei Veshnyakov; the article by the Professor of the Institute of Asian and African Studies of the MSU — Konstantin A. Panchenko — is dedicated to the analysis of this unique diplomat’s political and historic-philosophical treatises. It is without doub that Veshnyakov — being in constant contact with the Eastern Christian clergy — dreamt of the day when the Russian monarchs would take Byzantium’s ancient inheritance into their own hands. In the 1730–1740’s the resident strongly advocated for Russian leadership to undertake the final onslaught on Constantinople. Although, his views were not met with support in St. Petersburg at the time.

The idea of resurrection of the Byzantine state was reinvigorated in the 1780s. Catherine II’s so-called «Greek Project» considered the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire into several states under Russian sovereignty. One of such protectorates-to-be should have been Egypt. A Russian mission was sent there under the consul Conrad Tonus. By that time several European states entered the «Suez game», the prize for which was supposed to be the shortest trade route from Europe to Asia. In light of Russia’s growing foreign policy ambitions, Tonus proposed a trans-continental trade project to Catherine II, a proposition that would build a new route between the Baltic and the Far East through Egypt. This plan and its place among similar enterprises of the time is the subject of the Associate Professor of the Institute of Asian and African Studies Taras Y. Kobishchanov. Catherine’s project on the partition of the Ottoman Empire failed, with one of the victims turning out to be Conrad Tonus. Russia was forced to refrain from any activity in the Middle East for a long time.

The Arab-Ottoman world made a comeback into the focus of Russian foreign policy only in the second third of the 19th century. A significant role was given to Syria, as a possible battleground — should the advance of the Russian Caucasus Army prove successful. The Russian researcher Eugeniy M. Kopot’. perceives the actions of the Russian intelligence in the Middle East during the 1880s as an entirely new level in the methodology of data gathering, wh ere the accent shifted from exclusively military issues to the issues of social ethnology and the search for Russia’s potential allies in the region. In Syria, the adherents of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch were seen as such. Ottoman intelligence and diplomacy also picked up the pace with its activities in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Just like St. Petersburg chose to bet on its Orthodox co-religionists, living under the sway of the Sultan in Istanbul, the Ottomans perceived as their natural allies the Russian Muslims — not only in Crimea and the Caucasus but also in Central Asia and the Volga Region. The visit of the notable Turkish academic and statesman Mahmud Esad-Efendi in the summer of 1913 was of special significance with exact regard to this political subject. The political aspect of this visit is the theme of the article by the Russian scholar Vladimir Hutarev-Garnishevsky. The cited archive documents are a clear testimony to how the Russian authorities (both in the capital and in the provinces), counter-intelligence and gendarmerie evaluated the reality of the pan-Islamic and pan-Turkic threats. Parallel to «practical» ethnography, which often served for political interests, proper academic Oriental Studies continued to evolve in Russia: this field included Ottoman, Turkic and Arabic studies. One of its most notable representatives in the 19th-20th centuries were E.A. Krymskii (1871–1942). The joint article by a collective of scholars from Kazan, Kiev, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod — R.M. Valeev, O.D. Vasylyuk, S.A. Kirillina and A.M. Abidulin — is dedicated to Krymskii’s Turkic and Ottoman studies, which he conducted in Beirut, Moscow and Kiev. The close ties between the evolution of Oriental Studies and the eastern front of Russian Imperial foreign policy is clear enough. Yet the classical works of university and academic Oriental Studies, whose pillars — alongside A.E. Krymskii — were V.V. Bartold (1869–1930), V.A. Gordlevskii (1876–1956), I.Y. Krachkovskii (1883–1951), survived the test of time and still retain their academic value.

By the early 20th century Russia and the Ottoman Empire were bound to one another by far more socio-political, trade-economic, cultural and religious ties, than in the previous centuries. If at the dawn of Russian-Ottoman contacts in the 15th-16th centuries the Ottoman State was superior to Russia in literally everything, 400 years later the situation changed to the exact opposite. The struggle against the northern neighbor for Istanbul was now a question of life and death. The parallels in the historic destiny of both successors to Byzantium manifested themselves in the last phases of their existence. In the middle of the 19th century both empires lived through a period of radical transformations (for the Ottoman Empire these were the reforms of Tanzimat in 1839–1876, for Russia — the reforms of Alexander II in 1861–1874); these reforms, in turn, were supplanted by reactionary waves. The latter period, in turn, ended with revolutionary political changes of the early 20th century (the revolution of 1905 in Russia, and the revolution of 1908 in the Ottoman Empire). Finally, in 1914 St. Petersburg and Istanbul engaged in mortal combat during the First World War — the bloodiest struggle history had seen. Neither of the parties was destined to survive the conflict. The triumph of the Ottoman participants, who took part in the signing of the Treaty of Brest on March 3rd 1918, was not meant to last long. On October 30th the Mudross Truce fixated Porta’s capitulation before the Entente Alliance.

After the war and its catastrophic end for both states, the historic ties of Russia and Turkey were not broken. Their diminished territories were tormented for several years by external and internal conflicts. The regimes that took on the power in the fallen empires sought to emphasize their breakup with the historic past, led a policy of laicity, and — initially — fought together against the Entente countries. The political struggle of the 1930–1980s finally gave way to the current era of
Russian-Turkish cooperation.

Alexey E. Titkov. Editor-in-Chief of the Historical Reporter
Taras Y. Kobishchanov. Editor of the Issue, Editorial Board Member



Mahir Aydin. The Image of the Russian State According to Turkish Archival Documents (1475–1918) 

Vladimir Hutarev-Garnishevsky. «Former Goals Have Lost their Significance». Trip to Russia of a Turkish Panislamik-Minister Mahmud Esad in the Summer of 1913 as Depicted by Tsar’s Police


Hedda Reindl-Kiel. Status, Honor and Luxuries: Some Remarks on Material Exchange between Russia and the Ottoman Empire 

Dariusz Kołodziejczyk, Mariusz Kaczka. The Hotin Archive of Kolchak Pasha: its History, Contents, Examples of Use

Ilya V. Zaytsev. The 17th C. Ottoman Folk Songs-Türkü Dedicated to Özü (Ochakiv) and Azak (Azov) 


Alexander S. Lavrov. Questioning Words and Captives’ Petitions from the Muscovite State as a Source on Slavery in the Ottoman Empire in 17th C.

Svetlana S. Kirillina. «Pious Journeys» to Jerusalem: Russian Pilgrims-Writers of the Eighteenth Century

Konstantin A. Panchenko. Alexey Veshnyakov’s Geopolicy: Thoughts of a Russian Resident in Istanbul in 1740s

Taras Y. Kobishchanov. The «Suez Game» and the Russian Project of Transcontinental Trade Via the Ottoman Empire

Eugeniy M. Kopot’. Russian Military Intelligence’ Focus in the Arab-Ottoman World in the Second Half of the 19th C.

R.M. Valeev, O.D. Vasilyuk, S.A. Kirillina, A.M. Abidulin. Turkological and Ottoman Studies of A.E. Krymsky: Beirut – Moscow – Kiev