Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Ottoman and Habsburg Frontier in Hungary and the People Who Crossed it: Between Komárom and Esztergom, 1550 to 1591

Fig. 1 - As the envoy to the Turks was received below Komárom [Wie der herr Legat von den Turcken unterhalb Comorra angenommen worden.], 1608, woodcut, insert following page 8 in the 1608 publication of Salomon Schweigger’s travelogue.

“The hither and tither of the stairwell, the temporal movement and passage that it allows, prevents identities at either end of it from settling into primordial polarities. This interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy.”
~ Homi Bhabha[28]

Nestled between pages 8 and 9 in the 1608 edition of Salomon Schweigger's travelogue[1] chronicling his 1577 trip from Vienna to Istanbul, the woodcut image of the frontier between Christian Europe and the Muslim East seems to be a rather peculiar and modest representation of the most volatile border of sixteenth-century Europe (fig. 1). The tripartite fold-out landscape depicts the Habsburg controlled fortress of Komárom[2] on the far right, an island in the middle of the Danube with bubbles of smoke emitting from the cannons positioned along the ramparts as they salute the delegation. A fleet of eighteen oared ships with flags waving above allow the water to carry them towards the Ottoman realm. A cluster of ships on the far left indicate a time lapse, with the delegation’s arrival at their first and most critical destination: the encounter with their Muslim neighbors. The image encourages the reader to sink into the empty space of the Ottoman-Hungarian-Habsburg frontier, the central panel of the triptych highlighting the psychological aspects of the crossing. Here tufts of vegetation dot a desolate landscape and the meandering lines of the choppy waters of the Danube lead the eye from right to left and back again. This liminal space between two scenes is the focal point of my current research, and this post.

                  Traditionally scholars read this European frontier of the Ottoman Empire as an open zone of incessant warfare providing a space for the continuation of the Ghazi tradition, or holy-war against the infidels, in which short-term treaties were only a brief respite when both sides “recuperated militarily, [until] they would again be ready for the formal resumption of hostilities."[3]  While some scholars have nuanced this approach, my current work aims to complicate our understanding of this zone between the 1550s and 1591. I am gathering evidence that suggests that just as often as raids reached across the boundaries, so too did correspondence, gifts, chivalric spectacles involving parties from both sides, and a great deal of men and women moved securely throughout the frontier. It suggests that a fixed border system emerged during the second half of the sixteenth century in which individuals, letters, and goods moved in the liminal spaces of the contact zone. The movement discussed here took place between two fixed portals into their respective worlds: Komárom and Esztergom. This highway of cultural exchange, though sometimes strained, remained open for non-hostile movement between to the outbreak of the Long War.

                  The first part post in this series surveys the primary source literature produced by official delegations and individuals writing travelogues. And so, down the rabbit hole we go: diving right into the flowing waters of the Danube as it hurries downstream from Komárom to Esztergom, and sometimes traveling back again on the footpath running beside it. I begin with the end, a quote from Baron Wenceslas Wratislaw von Mitrowitz’s border crossing trip in 1591.

"Thus we voyaged some hours down the Danube, till we espied the Turkish boats, which were ten in number. The Turkish boats were exactly similar to ours in all respects, except in carrying only one gun each. On land about one hundred very fine-looking and well appointed Turkish horsemen rode towards us, and, on perceiving us, set spurs to their horses and galloped to the very brink of the Danube. Herr von Kregwitz then ordered the boats to cast anchor. We disembarked in the bank and welcomed and were welcomed by out Turkish friends, and ere long partook of dinner together in the boats. It was certainly matter of wonder, to a person who had never beheld anything of the kind before, to see the beautiful horses, the lances with streaming pennons, the sabers inlaid with silver, gold, and precious stones, the magnificent cloths of blue and red, the gilded saddles and caparisons of the Turks; and I think they must have equipped themselves in this manner on purpose."[4]

Members of delegations.[5] By the time Baron Wenceslas Wratislaw von Mitrowitz crossed the threshold of the Ottoman Empire somewhere along the 30 mile stretch of the Danube between Komárom and Esztergom on September 4, 1591, the set of processional motions and moments of the imperial delegation’s route to Constantinople were already fixed in tradition. Some eighteen travelers[6] penned descriptions of the journey between the two fortress-cities between 1550 and 1591; many undertaking the trip as part of similar missions to the Porte, carrying the tribute or accompanying ambassadors to their new posts in Constantinople. The first to record the expedition,[7] a wealthy merchant attached to Ferdinand I's delegation to Sultan Suleiman by the name of Hans Dernschwam, crossed the border in July of 1553.[8] His short description of the riverboat voyage recalls the moment he encountered the 200 Turkish escorts and his impressions of the old city of Esztergom, remarking on the Christian visual elements of the cloister and church visible from the water.[9] One year later, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq made the journey as ambassador, crossing the frontier in November or December of 1554 and returning at the same time as Dernschwam in August of 1555.[10]  Busbecq provides a more detailed and nervous account of how he expected the Habsburgs and Turks to attack each other and did not allow them to get too close, only to later discover that his enormous Turkish escort was fully dressed for a ceremonial procession, and not war.[11] Following these men were Jacob von Betzek (crossed in 1564-1565),[12] Marcantonio Pigfetta (1568-88),[13] Hans van den Braden (1570),[14] a member of David Ungnad’s entourage (1572),[15] Sefan Gerlach (1573),[16] Salomon Schweigger (1577),[17] Henricus Porsius (1579),[18] Francois de Billerbeck (1582),[19] Wolf Andreas von Steinach (1583),[20] Levyn Rym (1583),[21] Melchior Besolt (1584),[22] Jacob Furer von Haimendorff (1587),[23] Ludwig von Lichtenstein (1587),[24] Reinhold Lubenau (1587),[25] Friedrich Seidel (1591),[26] and lastly Wenceslas Wratislaw von Mitrowitz (1591).[27] From Dernschwam to Mitrovitz, each traveler crossed between Komárom to Esztergom by the Danube or on a well trodden path next to it, recording their experiences.

[1] Salomon Schweigger, Ein newe Reyßbeschreibung auß Teutschland nach Constantinopel und Jerusalem... (Nürnberg: Lantzenberger, 1608).
[2] Toponyms are intimately connected to nineteenth-century nationalist politics. In dealing with these issues, I elected to use the current Hungarian name of both cities. This is despite the fact the a majority of what was Komárom now lies in Slovakia and goes by the name Komárno. Other variations of the name Komárom include Comorra and Gomarom. Esztergom sometimes went by its Latin name, Strigonium, or by its German name, Gran.
[3] Rifaat A. Abou-el-Haj, “The Formal Closure of the Ottoman Frontier in Europe: 1699-1703,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 89, no. 3 (July 1, 1969): 467–475. 467.
[4] Václav Wratislav z Mitrovic and Albert Henry Wratislaw, Adventures of Baron Wenceslas Wratislaw of Mitrowitz. What he saw in the Turkish metropolis, Constantinople; experienced in his captivity; and after his happy return to his country, committed to writing in the year of our Lord 1599. (London: Bell & Daldy, 1862), 4.
[5] What is presented here is merely a preliminary sketch of what could be done with this vast amount of literature in relation to the crossing.
[6] My list is compiled from the longer list of travelogues discussing the Ottoman empire in the sixteenth century by Stefanos Yerasimos, Les voyageurs dans l’Empire Ottoman, XIVe-XVIe siècles : bibliografie, itinéraires et inventaire des lieux habités (Ankara: Société turque d’histoire, 1991).
[7] Of course, others recorded travel on this major highway prior to Dernschwam. His importance lies in the fact that he traveled after it became the crossing point between the Habsburg and Ottoman territory. For earlier travelers see Yerasimos 1991 and István Czagány, “A budai várra vonatkozó történetíras és művészettudomány története [History writing and art historical knowledge pertaining to the Buda castle],” Tanulmányok Budapest múltjából 22 (1988): 9–59.
[8] For each of the authors, I cite only the most accessible version of their work. Here, Hans Dernschwam and Heinrich Kiepert, Hans Dernschwam’s orientalische Reise, 1553-1555 aus Handschriften im Auszuge mitgetheilt von H. Kiepert. (Braunschweig: Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn, 1887).
[9] (Dernschwam and Kiepert 1887, 1).
[10] Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, Charles Thornton Forster, and Francis Henry Blackburne Daniell, The life and letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, (London: C.K. Paul, 1881).
[11] (Busbecq et al 1887, 82-85).
[12] Original manuscript version transcribed and published in Jakob von Betzek and Karl Nehring, Gesandtschaftsreise nach Ungarn und in die Türkei im Jahre 1564/65 (München: Finnisch-Ugrisches Seminar an der Universität München, 1979).
[13] Published in Marco Antonio Pigafetta and Daria Perocco, Itinerario da Vienna a Costantinopoli (Padova: Il poligrafo, 2008).
[14] Original manuscript version transcribed and published in S. de Vriendt, Karel Rijm, and Levinus Rijm, Reyse van Bruussele vut Brabant te Constantinopels in Thracyen en Reyse van Weenen in Hoosteryc te Constantinopels in Thracyen. Twee reisjournaals uit de jaren 1570-1585. (Gent: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Taal- en Letterkunde (Koningsstraat, 18), 1971).
[15] Franciscus Omichius, Beschreibung Einer Legation und Reise von Wien aus Ostereich auff Constantinopel... (Güstrow: Ferber, 1582).
[16] Stephan Gerlach, Stephan Gerlachs dess aeltern Tage-Buch: Der von zween ... an die Ottomannische Pforte zu Constantinopel abgefertigten..., ed. Samuel Gerlach and Tobias Wagner (Franckfurt am Mayn: In Verlegung Johann-David Zunners. Getruckt bey Heinrich Friesen, 1674).
[17] Salomon Schweigger and Heidi Stein, Zum Hofe des türkischen Sultans (Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1986).
[18] Henricus Porsius, Historia belli Persici, gesti inter Murathem II. Turcarum, et Mehemetem Hodabende, Persarum regem... (Francofurti: Excudebat Iohannes Wechelus, impensis Sigismundi Feyrabendt, 1583).
[19] Franciscus de Billerbeck, Newe Schiffart: Darinnen eigentlich vnd auffs kürtzest beschriben wirdt die Reise, einer Schiffart, auß Constantinopel... (Nürnberg: Heußler, 1584).
[20] Original manuscript version transcribed and published in Andreas Wolf von Steinach, “Beschreibung Oder Verzaichnusz Des Wegs, Der Stätt, Orth Und Fleckhen Von Steinach Aus Dem Enstall Im Lande Styer Auf Constantinopel Zue, Wie Ichs, Wolf Andre Von Stainach, Anno 1583 Geraist Mit Dem Wolgeboren Herrn Herrn Pauln Freiherrn Von Eytzing,” Steiermärkische Geschichtsblätter 3, no. 4 (1881): 193–234.
[21] Original manuscript version transcribed and published in (S. de Vriendt et al. 1971).
[22] Saad Ed-Din et al., Neuwe Chronica Türckischer nation... (Franckfurt am Mayn: Wechel, 1595).
[23] Christoph Fürer von Haimendorff and Georg Richter, Christoph Fürers von Haimendorff, Ritters, Deß Eltern geheimen Rahts... Reis-Beschreibung... (Nürnberg; Nürnberg: Endter ;, 1621).
[24] Original manuscript version transcribed and published in Hans-Ludwig von Lichtenstein, Große Reisen und Begebenheiten der Herrn Wolf Christoph von Rotenhan, Herrn Hannß Ludwig von Lichtenstein, Herrn Christoph von Wallenfelß, Herrn Hannß Ludwig von Münster nach Italien, Rhodus, Cypern, Türkey, besonders Constantinopel, nach Asien, Syrien, Macedonien, Egypten, in das gelobte Land etc. etc. etc. Berg Sinai etc. : 1585-1589 (München: Hafner, 1902).
[25] Original manuscript version transcribed and published in Reinhold Lubenau and Wilhelm Sahm, Beschreibung der Reisen des Reinhold Lubenau (Frankfurt am Main: Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, 1912).
[26] Friedrich Seidel and Salomon Haussdorff, Denckwürdige Gesandtschafft an die Ottomannische Pforte, Welche ehmahls auf Röm. Kays. Maj. Rudolphi II. Hohen Befehl Herr Fridrich von Krekwitz ... verrichtet : Nebst ausführlichem Bericht/ was hierbey so wohl mit dem Herrn Oratore selbst, als denen Seinigen vorgelauffen (Görlitz: Laurentius, 1711).
[27] (Mitrovic and Wratislaw 1862).
[28] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 2nd ed. (London; New York: Routledge, 2004), 5.