To hell with it, I'm running out of time.
Part XLV: An Overview of the Balkans (1500-1520)
The Balkan Peninsula in 1520 was radically changed from what it had been a mere two decades before. The Ottoman Empire, which had once dominated the region and projected power far beyond its geographical limits, had been severely reduced by a bloody civil war between the sultan and his vizier, and was essentially ripe for the picking for any power strong enough to take advantage. The Moreotes, previously beset by corruption and internal strife, had managed to reform and were now in a much stronger possession both internally and externally, having defeated the Thessalians in a regional conflict, effectively switching the positions of the two rival states. The Venetians, who had once seemed to be on the verge of being driven from the region, had consolidated their Italian holdings and now were ready to face down the Turks once again. Albania had managed to finally reunify under Jozë the Great, while Epirus is a Moreote vassal in all but name. The Danubian principalities threw off the Ottoman yoke during the civil war, and now are unified under Moldovan rule, presenting a united front against their enemies to both the north and south. Finally, the Hungarians and Serbs loom over the Peninsula, seemingly ready to drive the Turks from Europe for once and for all.
The largest and most devastating of the conflicts which had wracked the Balkans during the first two decades of the 16th Century was the Second Ottoman Civil War, fought over the increasing power of Greek Muslims within the imperial chancellery and pitting the sultan and his grand vizier against each other. After six years of bloody war, the grand vizier had emerged victorious after Mehmed III fell in battle trying to storm the walls of Salonika; it was a Pyrrhic victory. In Europe, where the bulk of the conflict was fought, the constant marching of armies had caused waves of famines and disease outbreaks to ravage the countryside, in addition to the hundreds of Greek villages that had been massacred by the Turks, and vice versa. Nearly a million people were dead, a benchmark that would be hit and eclipsed by the anti-Turk purges that would follow the conflict, as the vengeful Greek militias slew any Turk they found. Not only did this devastate the imperial bureaucracy by killing hundreds of thousands of tax payers and potential recruits, it also caused a massive refugee problem. Turks and Turkmen fleeing reprisal killings stampeded across the Epirote and Albanian borders, while waves of Greeks fled south into Thessalia or sailed across the Aegean to safety in the Morea or in Venetian-held islands and thousands of Slavs fled into Hungarian Serbia or crossed the Danube into Wallachian and Moldovan territory. These population movements would have long-lasting impacts, but none of them were more immediately apparent than the territorial changes which had occurred during the national schism. The Greeks of Bithynia had risen up and, with the help of the Trapezuntines, proclaimed the restoration of the Empire of Nikaia, which subsequently entered into personal union with the aforementioned Greek empire. The Neo-Rûmites had overrun most of Ottoman Anatolia and driven the Turkmen who lived there into eastward exile, while the minor Greek states had expanded inland at the expense of the Sublime Porte. Ebülhayr Paşa was unable to reverse any of these losses given the weakened state of his, I mean Mustafa III’s, realm, and so could do little but glare ominously at the western states.
In the far south of the peninsula, the Palaiologian Empire had finally righted itself after decades of decline. The Despotate of Morea had suffered from many of the problems which had beset and ultimately caused the downfall of the late Byzantine Empire, which had nearly caused the statelet to fall itself. Throughout the 15th Century, it had been beset by revolts by the overtaxed peasantry, the undertaxed nobility and the overpaid Albanian mercenaries who made up a large portion of the despot’s army. It was only with the ascension of Andronikos I in 1512 that these issues would be done away with. Andronikos correctly identified the source of so many of his realm’s problems, namely that the nobility paid next to nothing in taxes, and resolved to move against this issue so that it would not hamper the Despotate’s future. At this time, the nobility were divided into three groups: the Latins, who were feudal vassals of Mystras in every sense of the word; the Old Pronoiai, descendants of the Greeks who had helped reconquer the peninsula from the Latins and who were usually the most loyal; and the New Pronoiai, who were the descendants of the horde of refugees, many of them nobility, who had poured into the region after the Fall of Constantinople. Over the following years, Andronikos would turn the New Pronoiai against the other two by advancing them domestically and in court at the expense of the others, which soon made them the object of much resentment by the other two groups. Then, in 1514, when he ‘discovered’ a plot against him by the New Pronoiai, the Latins and the Old Pronoiai were more than willing to help him reduce the New Pronoiai, who were almost universally stripped of their titles and land. That these lands and titles were not given to the old nobility but instead to lowborn loyalists went mostly unnoticed. He then did the same with the Latins, only to similarly abandon them in 1518 on the pretext of ‘collusion with the Epirotes’, who held a similar heritage and more importantly were hostile to Mystras due to the events of the War of the Three Leagues. With the nobility thus either crushed or significantly reduced in power and number, he was able to reform the Despotate’ bureaucracy and institute a more balanced tax system, which relieved the burden on many of the perioikoi and allowed the army and navy to be expanded.
Of course, he had not been completely focused on domestic policies. He had also taken the field against the Thessalians in 1513, while their overlords were busy with their civil war. The Thessalians, ruled by Ioannes II, had neglected everything martial except their southern border defenses on the presumption that no-one would be willing to risk the wrath of the Sublime Porte over something so minor as Thessaly. As such, they were caught completely flat-footed when Andronikos led an army of some 7,000 men across the border in the spring of 1513 and blew a hole the size of a small city through their akritai. Before Ioannes could muster a response force, the Moreotes had advanced as far as Lamia, which they quickly reduced with a series of artillery barrages. The two despots met at the field of Philiadona a few weeks later, where the Moreotes outnumbered the Thessalians by two thousand men. The resulting battle was decidedly one-sided, as the Thessalian left routed and fled the field before they had even joined melee with the Moreotes, and were followed by most of the army, which was swiftly ridden down and captured by Andronikos; among the captured was Despot Ioannes. Out of a sense of Christian charity (and the desire to not provoke the Ottomans should they manage to pull out of their death spiral) Andronikos only annexed all of Boeotia and Phthotis, instead choosing to impose a crippling amount of tribute payments on the Thessalians to keep them from rebuilding enough to threaten him. He then retired back to Mystras, leaving his cousin Konstantinos to oversee the integration of the new conquests. He also participated in the War of the Three Leagues’ Epirote theater, annexing several villages along the coast after capturing them without a fight.
Further north, Albania had, of all things, stabilized. The massive (comparatively) civil wars which had wracked the small principality since the death of Skanderbeg in the 1460s had prevented Albania from advancing beyond anything other than its lowly state as a Venetian vassal. The many, many noble houses which had been unified by the great Kastoriti had immediately collapsed into infighting, turning Albania from a principality into a confederation of warring fiefdoms that happened to share the same name. More than two dozen kings from a dozen different houses had reigned during the fifty-year-long period of anarchy, and none of them had been able to control the entirety of the small but mountainous entity. The savior of Albania would not come from one of the noble houses but instead from the lowest ranks of society.
Jozë Shkozë was born to a Greek slave woman and an Albanian tenant farmer along the Ottoman border in 1488, a situation that must have seemed like it couldn’t have gotten worse. Then Jozë was kidnapped by Turkish slavers in 1502, almost certainly to wind up dead or slaving away in some far-flung part of the empire. Instead, he managed to escape somewhere in the wilds of Thrake and, with nowhere else to go, managed to lie his way into the Ottoman army. He advanced rapidly through the ranks of the army, proving to have a natural talent for war. He would fight in Ebülhayr Paşa’s campaigns against Epirus and the border wars with the Danubian Principalities and the Karamanids, eventually working his way up to the commander of a unit of two hundred akinji cavalry stationed on the eastern frontier. With the outbreak of the civil war, Shkozë and his men were transferred westward where they spent several years fighting Mehmedist forces in the Albanian borderlands. In 1516, when fighting suddenly shifted westwards, Shkozë was able to convince his and another unit of akinji to desert across the border. Returning to his old haunts, he saw an opportunity to take power in the anarchic Albania. He would ally with Gjon Zevisi, who ruled much of the south, and with their help he would conquer the other Albanian statelets in a four-year-long lightning campaign. By making common cause with many of the minor noble families and local monasteries, he was able to break the power of the major families and remove the threat they posed to his rule. In 1520, he inherited Zenevisi’s lands through marriage to his daughter, an intelligent and capable woman named Afërdita, and finally felt secure enough to proclaim himself Prince of Albania, his capital at Berat.
And, finally, there is Hungary. Once the Christian bulwark of the east, the union of the three kingdoms has fallen upon hard times as of late. No-one with eyes and half a brain could deny that Matthew the Raven was one of the greatest kings of his time, but the succession that he left behind upon his death in 1508 was anything but. He had spent much of his reign involved in centralizing efforts that had steadily eroded the power of the nobility across all three of his kingdoms, but he had failed to take into account that many of the magnates would have a grudge against him when he named his like minded eldest son, Ladislaus VII, as his heir and successor. When Ladislaus took the throne in his own right, his supposed illegitimacy--recall that it was he who was born scant months after the end of Alexandros II of Trapezous’ time in Esztergom--as well as his youth and inexperience made him the target of a conspiracy to elevate Julius Hunyadi, a distant cousin of Ladislaus’, to the throne. When word of this conspiracy reached the king, he attempted to have all of the plotters arrested, but this leaked and several of them were able to escape his grasp. Julius was one of them, and the resulting civil war lasted for three years.
Croatia and Serbia backed Julius the most ardently, as he was an experienced commander and they wished for a strong soldier-king to protect them from the Ottomans, who still loomed large at the time. Because of this, the thick of the fighting took place in Lower Hungary, which like the Ottoman Balkans later would be devastated because of the back-and-forth of armies across its fields. While Ladislaus held the advantage at the beginning of the conflict because of the support of Hungary proper, many of the magnates would defect over to Julius as time wore on. The death blow for the king would come with the defection of the majority of the Black Army to Julius in 1511, as many of their captains believed he would be a better ruler and better paymaster. Recognizing that victory was now beyond his grasp, Ladislaus made preparations to flee with the remnants of the Black Army. He set fire to Eszetergom and Pest as a final act of defiance before withdrawing eastward into Austria, which was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. He appealed to Bogislaw to protect him, his vassal, from the predations of a foreign king, i.e. Julius, and Bogislaw, who had long been troubled by the influence the Hungarians wielded in the region, agreed. Julius was warned away from Austria, and ultimately concluded it wasn’t worth risking his crowns for and halted at the border.
In the following years, Julius would turn his attention southwards, towards the Ottoman holdings in the Balkans. He did not intervene directly during the civil war, as he feared that the warring factions would come together to drive out the foreign invader, but instead spent the time winning the Balkan principalities to his cause, as they too hated the Turks. Several of the other rulers were eager to join battle immediately, but Julius advised caution--both because of fears of Turkish solidarity and because of his own need to deal with the restive magnate sin Hungary who felt that since they had brought him to the throne, he ought to be beholden to them. He hoped to emulate John I’s invasion of the Balkans with the (First) Holy League, and so reached out to many of the other Balkan rulers. The Venetians and Epirotes were busy, for obvious reasons, but the Albanians, newly reunited under Shkozë, and the Moreotes, under Andronikos, were both willing to take up the sword. Moldova, under the skilled and widely-known prince Bogdan the Blind, was in from the start, as he wished to undo the insulting tribute which the Turks had once levied upon his state. The last thing he wished to acquire--a Papal bull of crusade--was short in coming, however. Hyginus was occupied with events in Italy and felt that promulgating such a crusade could weaken his position at a crucial moment by sending the most devout of his followers to die in the Balkans. As such, he did not actually call for a crusade but instead sent a missive allowing Julius to proclaim a crusade himself. In March 1521, the Hungarian king did so, marking the beginning of the War of the Second Holy League.
 The Karamanid bey Bayezid II had proclaimed the restoration of the Sultanate of Rûm in 1502, taking the regnal name Kayqubad IV.
 This is one of the names proposed as the birth name of Mimar Sinan, a fairly prominent Ottoman general of probably Albanian descent. Whether or not he was an Albanian is unknown--his birth ethnicity is speculated to be everything from Armenian to Greek to Turkish to Albanian--but the argument for Albanianism is the one which I find most convincing.
 Akinji were Ottoman light cavalry, primarily used for scouting and gathering supplies.