Enemy of My Enemy, Part 1

There are probably very few places in the world where the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” hasn’t been put to the test. No matter how often the ploy fails—often, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy, and the consequence of the alliance are unpredictable—it’s too appealing to disappear for long. No matter how often a conflict is trumpeted as a “clash of civilizations,” you can usually find connections that bridge that divide.

In the fifteenth century, the “clash of civilizations” was the war between the Ottoman Turks and European Christendom, and the connections across the divide were, well, everywhere. The biggest of these, the Franco-Ottoman alliance of 1536, was still almost a century away, but there were plenty of other pieces already on the board. We tend to forget that Medieval Europe could be a very busy place, with envoys and merchants coming and going from all around the world. In Rome, the pope had just finished entertaining a group of Ethiopian priests who had attended the Council of Florence; in only a few years, one of his successors would be entertaining a group of Ethiopian diplomatic envoys (if Marco Bonechi is right, this second batch may have been immortalized on the walls of the Sistine Chapel).

Probably the hottest commodity on the market was an up-and-coming Turkic chief, Uzun Hasan, the leader of the Akkoyunlu (in English, the White Sheep Turkomans). The Akkoyunlu were a confederation of Turkic nomads who controlled territory stretching from eastern Anatolia to western Iran.  Having just wiped out their perennial opponents, the Karakoyunlu (or Black Sheep Turkomans), they saw the Ottomans to their west as the main threat to their position. That made them the perfect allies for Europeans who were looking at an Ottoman steamroller heading west. In 1457, Pope Calixtus III sent messages to Hasan asking for an alliance, which were followed by Fra Ludovico da Bologna the next year, sent by Pope Pius II. Whether or not the Persian envoy Ludovico brought back was actually from Hasan—there are some holes in his story—real diplomats soon followed, and in 1472 a Venetian embassy arrived at Hasan’s camp in Azerbaijan.

Continued in Enemy of My Enemy, Part 2


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