Enemy of My Enemy, Part 4

Continued from here.

Both the Ottomans and Akkoyunlu were distant descendants of that great nursery of nomadic armies, the Central Asian steppe. On the steppe, men learned to ride, hunt and shoot. Mounted on tough, shaggy steppe ponies, they were the perfect material to be melded into an army with exceptional  mobility and flexibility. Steppe nomads were the foundation of the army with which Chinggis Khan conquered his vast empire, though the Mongols were also adept users of infantry, siege weapons, and foreign cavalry. Despite romantic myths to the contrary, Central Asia was a busy place that also featured sedentary communities and rich cities. Empires established there had often had strong administrative cores, and so did their successors.

But the Ottomans had gone well beyond the usual pattern of mixing nomadic and sedentary troops. Two hundred years in Anatolia and endless wars against the Byzantines had put their armies on the leading edge of gunpowder technology as well. Created in the middle of the fourteenth century, the Ottoman janissary corps (in the original Ottoman Turkish, yeniceri or “new army”) was infantry that was quick to adopt firearms. At the siege of Constantinople in 1453 the Ottoman siege batteries included several truly massive cannon, the largest of which threw a quarter-ton ball.

The two Italian observers of the battle of Bashkent are somewhat vague about what occurred during the battle, but modern commentators such as John Woods and Kenneth Chase suggest the Ottomans fought a defensive battle. Giving Hasan the benefit of the doubt, we can assume that he didn’t plan to launch a full-scale assault on an entrenched enemy. Both Zeno and Angiolelli suggest that he was wary about attacking at all. It seems likely, then, that Hasan meant for his army just to harass the Ottoman camp and push them to retreat further.  Instead, when the Akkoyunlu cavalry got too close and received a devastating volley from the Ottoman gunners, the Ottoman cavalry counter-attacked out of the camp. The Akkoyunlu army fled in disarray, and Hasan’s reputation suffered a fatal blow. He spent the last five years of his reign putting down rebellions by unruly tribesmen, and the Akkoyunlu were no longer a serious threat to the Ottomans.

Victory at Bashkent was not one of the greatest moments of Ottoman military history; historians are only now rediscovering the extent of Uzun Hasan’s empire and his potential significance. What it was, was a model for battlefield victory against mobile cavalry that would be replayed frequently in the next century. More on that in the next part.

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