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Painting of the Battle of Nicopolis – or the Crusade of Nicopolis

Thunder Clap and Lightning Strike! Conquering the World, and the Battle of Ankara – Part 1

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What happens when two great conquerors of the ancient world and their mighty forces go head to head? A successful but unpredictable Ottoman Sultan was matched against a charismatic Mongol leader of an empire – leading to the Battle of Ankara, fought on 20 July 1402.  The Ottomans were led by Bayezid I, who brought his troops against the Turkic Mongols (Timurids), led by Timur, also known as Tamerlane. Two great empires, two powerful leaders, with only one outcome…

Thunder and Lightning

On 15 June 1389, the Ottoman Sultan Murad I was assassinated on the battlefield at Kosovo. His son, Bayezid, also known by his nickname Yıldırım "The Thunderbolt,” was crowned the new Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. It is true that he could be impulsive and unpredictable as a statesman. What often gets overlooked is that he was a capable military commander. Bayezid was a natural born leader. However, his leadership was best on the field of battle. This is how he got the nickname “Thunderbolt”; due to his swift maneuvering and attacking in battle.

Portrait of Bayezid I.

Portrait of Bayezid I. (Public Domain)

Bayezid’s lighting-strike military campaigns began with the conquests of the beyliks (beylik was territory under the jurisdiction of a Bey; Bey is Turkish for chieftain) Aydin, Saruhan, Menteşe, and Sivas. The new Sultan continued his rampage throughout Anatolia (modern Turkey) during the fall and winter of 1390, as he confiscated Hamid, Teke, and Germiyan—as well as taking the cities of Akşehir and Niğde, and their capital Konya from the Karaman.

In 1391, the Karaman sued for peace and Bayezid accepted. Soon after, Bayezid moved north against Kastamonu and conquered both that city as well as Sinop.

Riding and Conquering, the Unstoppable Force

With much of Anatolia under Ottoman control, Bayezid turned his attention towards Southeast Europe. First on the list was Bulgaria. Having conquered them, he turned his forces on northern Greece and gobbled up their territory as well. It seemed as though nothing could stop him.

In 1394, Bayezid crossed the Danube River to attack Wallachia. However, the Wallachians proved troublesome against the much larger Ottoman army and were able to defeat them superior in number, but on 17 May 1395, they were defeated at the battle of Rovine, which prevented Bayezid's army from advancing beyond the Danube.

Battle of Rovine, 1395

Battle of Rovine, 1395 (Public Domain)

While Bayezid was confiscating the lands in Southeast Europe, he laid siege to Constantinople in 1394, capitalizing on the city’s political instability. As Bayezid laid siege, the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus sent messengers, as well did the King Sigismund of Hungary, to Venice and Paris to lobby for a new crusade that would dislodge the Ottoman Turks from Southeast Europe.  The new Crusade was agreed to and many western European nations responded by sending troops. The king of Hungary (future Holy Roman Emperor) led this large crusading army. Both armies met and fought in what is known as the Battle of Nicopolis, 25 September 1396. The result was a decisive Ottoman victory.

The Battle of Nicopolis, as depicted by Turkish miniaturist in 1588. (Public Domain)

While Constantinople remained under siege, Bayezid decided to push east and conquer new lands. From 1397-1398, Bayezid confiscated new territory throughout Anatolia, including the Djanik emirate and Kadi Burhan al-Din. This would prove to be a big mistake, for taking these lands violated a treaty he had with Timur (Tamerlane). The reason why Bayezid would violate such a treaty was due to his belief that the Ottomans were the heirs of the former Seljuk state in Anatolia. Understand that the violation was more than just territorial interest—Kadi Burhan al-Din represented the Ilkhanid inheritors of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan.

Timur, Powerful Conqueror and Ruler of an Empire

Timur facial reconstruction from skull by M.Gerasimov. 1941

Timur facial reconstruction from skull by M.Gerasimov. 1941 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Timur, historically known as Tamerlane (1336 - 1405), was a Turco-Mongol conqueror and the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia. Timur was born in Transoxania and was a member of Barlas tribe. He rose to power among the Ulus Chaghatay—a nomadic tribal confederation that formed the central region of Mongolian Chaghadaid khanate.

Timur's story is similar to Genghis Khan’s. How true those stories are is up for debate. Timur rose through the ranks by gaining the respect of local chieftains due to his personal valor in combat and his brigandage. His actions, whether raiding or in combat, caused many to flock to him. It was also during a battle that arrows struck his right arm and leg that left him partially paralyzed. Because of this, Europeans referred to him as “Tamerlane.”


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Cam Rea is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including: March of the Scythians: From Sargon II to The Fall of Nineveh


Top Image: Painting of the Battle of Nicopolis – or the Crusade of Nicopolis; detail (Public Domain)

By Cam Rea

Cam Rea's picture

Cam Rea

Cam Rea is a Military Historian and currently the Associate Editor/Writer at Strategy & Tactics Press. Mr. Rea has published several books and written numerous articles for Strategy & Tactics Press and Classical Wisdom Weekly. His most current publication is... Read More

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