Today in European history: the Martyrs of Otranto (1480)

Hi folks. A little housekeeping is in order. First, as you know I’m editing LobeLog for the next couple of weeks. That’s going to necessitate paring down the blogging here. That probably means a mix of shorter updates coupled with a few days off here and there. Tonight is going to be one of those days off.

Second, you may also know that today is the 70th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan, which means it’s also the 70th anniversary of the partition of India and Pakistan and the hundreds of thousands/millions of deaths it caused. Modern India is a bit outside the normal historical coverage of this blog, and anyway this is one of those events that has so many explainers out there that anything I could write here would be superfluous. But I will recommend the 1947 Partition Archive, a project in Berkeley that collects oral histories from people who were directly affected by the partition. You can read a very interesting NPR piece on the archive here. It’s a way to go beyond the many, many explainers that are available and hear the stories of the people who actually suffered at the hands of the Indian and Pakistani governments and, oh yes, the British Empire and its disinterest in seeing this project done carefully.

Finally, today is also the anniversary of the Martyrs of Otranto, the 800 men who died, possibly by execution, possibly for religious reasons, following the Ottomans’ successful capture of that southern Italian city in 1480:

So an Ottoman Sultan who conquered Constantinople would naturally be inclined to anoint himself the new Roman Emperor. Mehmed seems to have taken his new title seriously enough that he had designs not just on ruling the Roman Empire as it was in 1453 (which, frankly, wasn’t all that impressive anymore, just Constantinople and a little surrounding territory), but on putting the entire OG empire back together. And if you’re putting the Roman Empire back together, what better place to start than the city of Rome itself? It didn’t hurt that there were apocalyptic Islamic prophecies floating around about the conquest of “Rome” bringing about the End Times–when conquering the “New Rome” (Constantinople) didn’t do the trick, attention shifted to the “Old Rome” (also the actual, you know, Rome). Hence in 1480 the Ottomans invaded southern Italy with a plan to march north and seize the birthplace of the Roman Republic–and, by the way, still the center of Latin Christendom.

Source: Today in European history: the Martyrs of Otranto (1480)


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