The fledgling Ottoman state
The Ottoman Turks were in fact new to Islam, flitting with impunity around the borderlands between Byzantine and formerly Seljuk territory, but once galvanised they moved with the zeal of the new convert. In an era marked by destruction and dissolution they provided an ideal that attracted legions of followers and they quickly established an administrative and military model that allowed them to expand with alacrity. From the outset they embraced all the cultures of Anatolia – as many Anatolian civilisations before them had done – and their culture became an amalgam of Greek and Turkish, Muslim and Christian elements, particularly in the janissary corps, which were drawn from the Christian populations of their territories. Vigorous, ambitious and seemingly invincible, they forged westward, establishing a first capital at Bursa, then crossing into Europe and taking Adrianople (Edirne) in 1362. By 1371 they had reached the Adriatic, and in 1389 they met and vanquished the Serbs at Kosovo Polje, effectively taking control of the Balkans. In the Balkans the Ottomans encountered a resolute Christian community, yet they absorbed them neatly into the state in the creation of the millet system, by which minority communities were officially recognised and allowed to govern their own affairs. That said, neither Christian insolence nor military bravado were countenanced within Ottoman territory, and Sultan Beyazıt resoundingly trounced the armies of the last Crusade at Nicopolis in Bulgaria in 1396. Beyazıt perhaps took military victories for granted from then on. Several years later it was he who was insolent, when he taunted – to his detriment – the Tatar warlord Tamerlane at Ankara. Beyazıt was captured, his army defeated and the burgeoning Ottoman Empire abruptly halted as Tamerlane lurched through Anatolia and out again.