Conversion to Islam in the Balkans: Kisve Bahas? Petitions and Ottoman Social Life, 1670-1730

By Anton Minkov | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
PERIODS OF CONVERSION TO ISLAM IN THE
BALKANS AND DEMOGRAPHIC PROCESSES

Our review of conversion to Islam in pre-Ottoman times suggests that an understanding of the duration and nature of the conquest of non-Muslim territories by Muslim forces is important for any study of the subsequent process of conversion. Thus, in the following pages I present a brief historical outline of the conquest of the Balkans by the Ottomans and some of the controversies connected with it.


The Ottoman Conquest of the Balkans and Conversion to Islam

The conquest of the Balkans was accomplished in the space of lit- tle more than a century and in two stages—1352 to 1402 and 1415 to 1467. The main reason for the relatively faster pace of the con- quest of this region, compared to that of Asia Minor, was the polit- ical fragmentation of the Balkans on the eve of the Ottoman invasion. In the middle of the fourteenth century, the Balkans consisted of a number of small kingdoms and independent rulers. The Byzantine state held only some territories in Thrace, Thessaly and Macedonia. Catalan mercenaries also operated independently in Thrace, while the Morea was in Venetian hands. The Bulgarian state had by then disintegrated into the three kingdoms of Tarnovo, Vidin and Kalliakra. Albania was divided among four autonomous rulers. The Serb, Croatian and Bosnian kingdoms in the western Balkans were also torn apart by dynastic struggles. Another important factor was that the petty rulers in Macedonia, Thessaly, Epirus, Albania and parts of Bulgaria were essentially foreigners (mainly of Serbian origin). With no political power strong enough to dominate the Balkans, local rulers tried to secure their precarious reigns by alliances with one or another of their stronger neighbors. The Ottomans in fact emerged as a political player in the Balkans because of just such an alliance with a pretender to the Byzantine throne. Taking advan- tage of the favorable political situation, Muslim forces were able

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