Enemy of My Enemy, Part 3

Continued from Enemy of My Enemy, Part 2

Uzun Hasan, leader of the Akkoyunlu confederacy, was an astute diplomat with a powerful army but he met his match when he faced off against the Ottoman empire.

By the time the treaty with Venice was negotiated in 1472, relations between the Akkoyunlu and the Ottomans had declined to a state just short of war. In the years after the fall of Constantinople the Ottomans had consolidated their position in Anatolia. Trebizond, the Byzantine city-state into whose ruling family Uzun Hasan had married, fell to the Ottomans in 1461. An Akkoyunlu attempt to attract the Karamanids, one of the few surviving independent states in Anatolia, failed in 1468. When Hasan and the Akkoyunlu seized control of several mountain passes from the Mamluks in 1473, opening potential routes to link up with their Venetian allies, Ottoman emperor Mehmed II knew it was time to strike back.

The first battle of the campaign came on August 4th, when the Ottomans tried to ford the Euphrates river. Seeing the size of the Ottoman army, Hasan apparently said “Oh, son of a —, what an ocean” (seriously, this how the quote appears in the Hakluyt Society’s edition of Caterino Zeno’s history, and we know Zeno was present at the battle). Despite the disparity in numbers, Hasan’s army repulsed the Ottoman crossing. Licking its wounds, the Ottoman army retreated to establish a fortified camp. The Ottoman army was accompanied by Giovanni Maria degli Angiolelli, a Venetian adventurer who had been captured and enslaved by the Ottomans and was attached to the Ottoman commander’s staff, so the forthcoming battle was observed by Italians on both sides.

Both armies came from a tradition of mobile warfare where light cavalry armed with bows and scimitars harassed their opponents with archery before closing in for the kill, but while the Akkoyunlu army was still essentially a tribal coalition, the Ottoman’s complemented their horsemen with Janissary infantrymen and artillery. In a swirling open-field battle, those weapons might not have made a difference. But, as Hasan and the Akkoyunlu attacked the Ottomans in their camp at Bashkent, they were the difference between victory and defeat.

Continued in Part 4

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