Eastern Europe Consolidates: Crash Course European History #16

Posted By on August 21, 2019

Hi I’m John Green and this is Crash Course
European History. So we’ve talked a lot about shifting perspectives
in this series; being able to see from more than one angle helps us to be empathetic,
but it also reminds us that there is no single correct way to look at human history. Zooming in to understand the individual choices
of individual historical figures is important, but so is zooming out to understand larger
forces. And if we can zoom way, way out for a moment,
two of the big questions of European history (and world history) are how centralized should
government power be, and who should decide who wields that power? We’ve seen attempts to centralize government
power over large communities in western Europe, and fights over constitutionalism or absolutism. But now we’re going to turn east, to see
how another region of Europe was governing and growing in the 17th century. INTRO
In 1618, Poland-Lithuania was the largest kingdom fully located in Europe. It enjoyed a consensus form of government. When a monarch died, a successor king was
elected. Representatives from dozens of smaller political
units across the kingdom were summoned to meet and determine who would be king. Consensus was reached through negotiations
among uppercrust aristocrats and candidates for king. The Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania formally
came into being in 1569, but in reality it had been established with the fourteenth century
marriage of a Polish queen to a Lithuanian Grand Duke. During the religious turmoil of the sixteenth
century, Poland remained Catholic. Also, and unusually, the consensus-style government
gave freedom to individual princes who wanted to follow Luther, Calvin, or any of the other
gajillion religious reformers. Now of course freedom for princes isn’t
freedom for peasants, but still… Candidates for king even had to commit themselves
to religious pluralism. That toleration drew Jewish people from Spanish
and other intolerant regimes eastward into the kingdom. It was a very diverse place — both in terms
of religion and ethnicity. The creation of Poland-Lithuania also meant
that present-day Ukraine was now part of Poland’s holdings. The Commonwealth’s ambitions sent its people
and its government southward into Ukraine where there were fertile lands available for
settlement–not the last time that Ukraine’s abundant farmland would make it a center of
expansionist attention. And the Polish nobility followed as the kings
awarded them vast Ukrainian estates, which their new owners ruled with an iron hand—alienating
both former inhabitants and new migrants. So, at this point, Eastern Europe as a whole
was complicated and competitive, as all theses kingdoms struggled to acquire more territory
for farmland and better access to resources. To Poland-Lithuania’s north, Sweden had
a united Lutheran population and an excellent fighting force; it too wanted to expand into
the continent’s Baltic territories. The Ottoman empire, which was more powerful
and controlled most of Hungary by the middle of the seventeenth century, was primarily
Muslim. But because of its more westerly and northerly
conquests, it had large pockets of Orthodox Christians. And hundreds of thousands of Ottoman families
had moved to the Balkans and other Ottoman possessions in southeastern Europe. And many Jews had migrated to the Ottoman
Empire because of Habsburg persecution. In fact, compared to most other European rulers,
Muslims were tolerant: they did not persecute religious minorities by seeking them out and
burning them at the stake in great numbers as Christians did. Instead, they were taxed at a higher rate
than Muslims were. Which…you know, compared to being burned
alive…I would take . Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. 1. The Ottoman Empire had developed politically
through the efforts of some spectacularly successful leaders. 2. One was Mehmet I who in 1453 took Constantinople
from the Byzantine Empire. 3. Then there was Selim I who conquered Egypt
in 1517, 4. followed by Suleyman the Magnificent’s series
of triumphs across the Middle East 5. and further expansion into southwestern
Europe, North Africa, and the Mediterranean. 6. The Ottomans had a far from constitutional
process for succession. 7. The sultan often had many concubines who lived
together in the harem, 8. which was not, as is often depicted, a
kind of brothel, 9. but instead the seat of government. 10. It was a place for state business, policy
decision-making, and other important matters. 11. But after any one of the sultan’s partners
gave birth to a son, 12. she and her son usually moved to the provinces, 13. where the boy learned rulership skills
while also developing a network of followers. 14. And then when the sultan died, the oldest
son usually succeeded him, 15. but not always. 16. Factions, often developed by an aspiring son’s
mother, struggled for a place in the empire. 17. Unsurprisingly, murder was often involved. 18. A new sultan’s brothers were usually murdered
on his accession to the throne so they couldn’t plot coups. 19. All in all, they could have used some good
family therapy. 20. But on the other hand, you know, kingmaking
is kind of an inherently dirty business. Thanks Thought Bubble. Despite that not-very-secure-sounding system,
the absolutist Ottoman state was among the longest lived empires in history, lasting
until 1922, at which point Constantinople became Istanbul, clearing the way for They
Might Be Giants to record their third best song. In any conquered region, the Ottoman government
drafted young Christian boys into its army and bureaucracy, educating them, and converting
them to Islam. Taken from their parents, they became part
of the janissary corps, in which they could and did rise to the highest reaches of government
alongside advisors and bureaucrats from influential families. The rulers and nobility also developed a different
household type, including multiple wives and large numbers of offspring. Given Ottoman men’s service as ghazis, or
warriors, and given the immense slaughter across the entire European population at the
time, having many wives seemed like the prudent thing to do. because there just weren’t
that many men. Women in these households were often wealthy
and empowered to purchase warehouses and manufacturing establishments, whereas women to the west
often did not have inheritance or property rights. And when men were off fighting, women served
as unofficial replacements in the Ottoman Empire—Hurrem, the sole wife of Suleyman
being a prime example. And in communities where many girls and women
were left in seclusion, other women had opportunities to serve as their lawyers, accountants, and
scribes, and doctors, and teachers, and other professionals. So the Ottomans had developed different social
structures and state structures.I know it’s tempting to view all of this through a modern
lens, and think about this is good, this is bad, this is modern, and this is not modern. I don’t think that’s the right lens through
which to view all of this. We’re talking about the 17th Century, so
we should compare it to the rest of the 17th Century. And in many ways, the 17th Century Ottoman
Empire had big advantages over other European communities, but after their failure to capture
Vienna in 1683, which we’ll get to in a minute, the Empire’s competitive edge did
dull. Nearby, Russia was also expanding thanks to
Ivan IV, aka Ivan the Terrible, who did have vicious outbursts of temper and, also, did
kill his own son during a quarrel, which to be fair is kind of terrible. Ivan’s grandfather Ivan III had begun growing
the Russian empire as well as creating a modern state structure, complete with administrative
departments and functionaries. He also oversaw extensive building at the
Kremlin complex. The first part of Ivan IV’s rule continued
Russia’s institutional development with the creation of an improved code of laws and
better tax collection. Ivan also summoned distinguished representatives
of the orthodox church and the nobility along with wealthy townspeople to an assembly (zemskii
sobor), which continued to meet. And for these accomplishments, as well as
Ivan’s expansionist ambitions, many historians have restored the word groznyi—once interpreted
to mean “terrible”—to the meaning held by Russians of his day: Ivan the “formidable,”
or “fearsome,” or even “awesome.” Meanwhile high churchmen were working to make
Ivan literally awesome by creating imagery in churches of a tsar connected to the divine. They also depicted the connection between
the tsar and people along a divine continuum. At the time, the head of the Orthodox church
claimed that the Russian ruler was, quote, “everywhere under the vault of heaven the
one Christian Tsar, mounted on the holy throne of God of the holy apostolic church, in place
of the Roman and Constantinopolitan [thrones] in the God-saved city of Moscow.” So, not God Himself or anything–just mounted
on the holy throne of God. Rather like Louis XIV over in France. Did the center of the world just open? Is Jesus in there? It’s a crucifix. You might be thinking, “did you just shoehorn
in this center of the world bit?” Yeah, I did. And it’s not the first time Jesus has been
shoehorned in where he doesn’t fit well. If you ever read the accounts of Jesus’s
life, one thing that you’ll note is that, uh, he was never a political leader, nor did
he ever choose political leaders, nor did he ever express much interest in choosing
political leaders. But just as every religion has to adapt to
the culture in which it finds itself, cultures have to adapt to religions. It’s this endless, very complicated dance. And that’s how you end up with one guy mounted
on the holy throne of God in Russia, and a different guy mounted on the holy throne of
God in France. But back to Russia. As it bureaucratized along the lines of the
western European kingdoms, Russia developed the rituals of a top-down autocratic state,
which lasted into the twentieth-century. Serfs—that is, laborers bound to the land
and unfree in their movements–groveled before their lords, who often saw these workers as
not even deserving of the word “human.” However, the nobility also groveled in front
of the tsar, displaying abject submission akin to what serfs showed their lords. But it’s important to understand that it
wasn’t as simple as people considering themselves, and others, purely inferior or superior. Instead, the belief was that everyone had
a role to play within the system. Now, to be clear, within that system, most
people had very little freedom or what we would now call “human rights.” But still, throughout history, people have
found ways to express human agency no matter the rigidity or oppressiveness of the system
in which they are living. Ivan IV was energetic, especially in the first
half of his reign. He took Russia’s borders eastward, capturing
among other conquests the Muslim stronghold of Kazan. Russian settlers headed for new farmland right
up to the Pacific Ocean. And helping Ivan in this conquest, even as
absolutist tendencies developed in Russia, was another group of ordinary people who were
neither serfs nor noble grovellers but free individuals. Called Cossacks (from the word Kazak, meaning
free), they survived through plunder and trade and through selling their military services
to rulers and nobility who needed their fighting skills. Until late in the seventeenth century, the
Cossacks generally looked down on farming. They led nomadic lives, capturing people to
sell or robbing ships on the Caspian Sea. Located along the Ukrainian, Russian, and
Ottoman borderlands, they were more democratic than the rulers to whom they often sold their
services, including the Russian tsars whose defeat of Kazan in 1552 they helped facilitate. After that, the Cossack Yermak Timofeyevich
led Russian advances deeper into Siberia with its lucrative fur trade and became a Russian
hero. Ivan IV died in 1584 of a stroke while playing
chess, and his heir Fyodor died in 1598, and after that, claimants to the leaderless Russian
throne abounded. Poland-Lithuania spotted an opening for establishing
a Polish prince as Russian tsar. The sense was that Moscow was so disorganized
and the monarchy was so weak that it could easily fall. This resulted in the “Time of Troubles,”
which was so named because of the famine of 1601-3, as well as Poland-Lithuanian and Swedish
attacks on Russia, and the general devastation caused by that warfare. These finally ended with Russia’s victory
in 1613 and the ascension to the throne of Michael Romanov—chosen by an “Assembly
of the Land” of nobles and, as the new tsar put it, also chosen by God and the voice of
the people. But mostly by the nobles. Cossack troops and units from the nobility
drove back the enemy, knocking Poland-Lithuania and Sweden out temporarily from the competition
for control of the region. And for their efforts, the new tsar thanked
his saviors by raising taxes, cutting back on privileges, and otherwise behaving as if
the tsar himself, not his military, had won the day. But don’t worry the nobility will get back
at the Romanovs in just 300 short years. The Cossacks, supported by an increasingly
oppressed Ukrainian peasantry, went on to reduce Polish power through war that slaughtered
tens of thousands of Jewish estate managers, Protestant minorities, and their supporters
living in Ukrainian territory. In 1654, Russia joined what became known as
the Russo-Polish war, at the end of which in 1667 the eastern part of Ukraine including
Kiev became part of the Russian empire, while the western part remained part of Poland-Lithuania. Fortunately, arguments over Ukrainian land
had at last been resolved. What’s that, Stan? Oh. Still? Stan, is he behind me? Because we had a deal that he wasn’t going
to come out this whole series…GAH…putin. Right. Meanwhile, the Polish kingdom, while on a
downward path because of these defeats, would live to fight a fair few more battles. The most famous and consequential of these
battles for the continent was the battle for Vienna in 1683 when elected Polish king Jan
Sobieski joined forces with the Habsburg monarchy to drive out the invading Ottoman forces. We previewed this earlier because it’s a
big deal. This led to Habsburg rule being solidified
around Austria, and Hungary, and other east-central European territories. And it also meant that Europe was gaining
some of the political contours that would shape its modern history. I mean, there wasn’t yet a Germany as such,
or even an Austrohungarian Empire, but the scene was being set. I know we covered A LOT of power and territory
struggles today. There was a lot of war in Europe in the 17th
Century. But if we zoom out, we see generations-long
disagreements over how centralized communities should be, and where the right to rule comes
from. These changes were happening in the long run,
which is important, but of course no human life is lived in the long run, including yours. Each of us–whether a Jewish person escaping
religious persecution or a woman becoming a lawyer during a time of war–is profoundly
shaped by the short run we happen to inhabit. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next time.

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 100 comments

  1. Important to note that the "liberalism" of Poland-Lithuania is viewed as the cause for its decline. The concept of "Golden Liberty" does sound a lot like what the American liberal revolutionaries espoused, except for one major difference. All those freedoms, the Sejm (the parliament) only applied to the nobility. It wasn't a centralized republic, it was more like noble anarchy. While the countries around us centralized and the rulers raised gigantic armies, the Rzeczpospolita regressed – any king seeking to reform the state faced fierced and sometimes armed opposition from the nobles. The noble parliament was prone to foreign manipulation and so, what was once the largest European state was nothing more than a buffer state for the new great powers, in the sphere of influence of Russia.

  2. You have such beautiful perspective on history, everything is relative to its time, and value judgement have never been helpful for understanding.

  3. Hey Ottomans, want to hear a joke

    Ottomans: What?


    Ottomans: I don’t get it

    And you’ll never will

    Ottomans: Angry Turkic noises

  4. Regarding the Ottoman kidnapping of children:
    -The system was called devshirme, and was in place from the late 14th through to mid 17th century.
    -Christian boys were taken, converted and then divided to different institutions, which were called Palace, Scribes, Religious and Military, the last one producing the Janissary soldiers. The Palace was were the smartest boys were sent to become high officials, some eventually becoming viziers.
    -Jews, Muslims, sons of craftsmen, urban populations, only sons and boys with bodily defects were exempt from the devshirme.
    -Families of the boys reacted in different ways: some went as far as mutilating their sons to exempt them, others would bribe officials to pick their sons for a life of wealth. Converting to Islam was also a way of escaping.
    -Though the Janissaries were slaves, they were paid a regular salary and a pension after service.
    -Eventually, the privileges enjoyed by the Janissary class led to free Muslims demanding access to their ranks. Due to manpower pressures, this and the inclusion of children of janissaries were eventually allowed, leading to the decline of the devshirme. The boy harvests became rare events after the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent and number of boys taken shrunk as other recruitment methods prevailed.
    -By the time the devshirme was formally abolished in 1703 it had been defunct for decades.
    Just wanted to inject some nuance into the discussion. Also, I don't see how the devshirme existing would counter the fact that the Ottoman Empire was religiously more tolerant than other European states.

  5. John…
    I love the channel AND the content. As a living historian & reenactor covering mid-16th century thru late-19th century, I'm always seeking new sources & views on history.
    Please, if you would, check out my fledgling youtube channel… Living History Comes Alive & let me know what you think. Again, keep up the great work.

  6. Fantastic video, as a Ukrainian American I am heartened by your inclusion of one of the largest ethnic groups in Europe.

  7. You made being taken away from your family by force and being forced to convert to Islam sound like a great opportunity. Yet it was taken so well from the Christians in the Balkans that they used to murder (or pretend to murder) their own children as a way to prevent them from being taken by the Ottomans. There is still a holiday devout to that.

    I mean sure they weren't as bad as some of the Christian countries at that time, but the Ottoman empire had a large Christian population within its borders, occupying some of the wealthiest regions… They didn't have a choice, but to allow some religious freedom.

  8. Not so much a mistranslation into the word "terrible" as it is a changing of the meaning of the word terrible.

    Also, you'd take higher taxes over death? How very very un-American of you.

  9. Things were not all that rosy in the Ottoman Empire though. When they conquered Constantinople thousands of people were slaughtered and raped, hundreds of thousands of Slavic people were taken as slaves including Hurrem (most were not lucky as her), Orthodox Christians were tolerated but had limited freedom while Catholics were despised since Catholic kingdoms like Spain opposed the Turks and no matter how high jannisaries would get in government they were still stolen children brainwashed to murder their own people. We should be thankful that they lost at Vienna and were expelled from Europe but alas the Armenians were not so lucky.

  10. finally some other part of Europe, thanks! just too bad that how these countries came about is swiftly glossed over (but it's 17th century context, so it makes sense). e.g. would have been great to mention that the Russian state has its origin in the Kievan Rus in modern-day Ukraine (meaning borderland), or that before Ivan IV made Moscow great Novgorod used to be the centre of Russian culture and trade, and they had a people's assembly long before anyone in Western Europe had anything like that. But after Novgorod was invaded by the Moscovites, the political modus operandum changed. Also, why never mention the Mongols?!? They were the main enemy of the early Russian states, controlling the area as the Golden Horde. Still waiting for it…

  11. Imagine this, some terrorists conquered your land, asking you to send your young children to be taught at their school, teaching them how to use weapons and fight their wars for more lands. Thats the ISIS few years back but no one saw this correlation with the Ottomans 🙂

  12. Its funny how you say, the Tsar was chosen by 'people' with a footnote, nobles. But you never mentioned how the Sultan's harem in Ottoman Empire are also a minority. And its not like they are that free and advanced in democracy. Cheers.

  13. Hm, Grozny never meant Terrible. Groza is…thunderclouds with heavy rain, so grozny would mean something closer to fearsome.

  14. Thanks for covering the Commonwealth! We usually learn about France being the first republic but usually not about the Commonwealth having the first constitution.

  15. Oh c'mon, how many times do historians talking about Poland-Lithuania just use Poland as the name, it wasn't just Poland, the Lithuanian part was quite powerful as well, for a time even more powerful than Poland, and had a far larger territory. So whoever is gonna read this, please in the future use the full name of the Commonwealth.

  16. "Istanbul (not Constantinople)" was written in 1953, with words by Jimmy Kennedy and lyrics by Nat Simon. Recorded by Canadian group The Four Lads in the same year, it was their first gold record.

  17. i would take the inquisiton instead of the Ottomans and their blood tax and 5 centuries under their rule… The so called equality between muslims and nonmuslims in the empire didnt exist, as muslim masters and ottoman officials could do whatever they wanted with "nonbelievers".

  18. Did You Know?

    Contrary to popular belief, John and Hank Green do not have sex in the staff room.

    Don’t worry John Green i gotchu

  19. That cheesy last line Hank reals off at the end! haha. Hank really is into himself isn't he? Get over yourself mate, it's not all about you ffs

  20. Well Terrible used to mean Fearsome (And sometimes still do depending on context, if a but archaic when used like that) and that is how I have interpret his name for a long time. I do not think the Translation is really that wrong. Just that the meaning of Terrible, like Awesome, has changed with time.

  21. Joining the 'yaaay, Eastern Europe at last' crowd!
    To be fair, Polish so called 'free election' was painfully corrupted and ended up being terrible for Poland. We had freedom, so we became the prey…
    And I never noted that English language has not enough consonants to say 'tzar' properly 😀

  22. Just wanna amend two things :
    1- As everybody mentioned, it was Mehmed II who conquered Constantinople ( hence the nickname "Mehmed the Conqueror"
    2- The method of killing a dynasty member was strangling, not stabbing as showed in the thought bubble. You cannot spill the blood of a dynasty member.

    The rest of the Ottomans section was surprisingly objective and thank you for your dedication. DFTBA.

  23. As someone from south eastern Europe I think that it is important to understand that the ottoman devshirme or the blood tax wasn't just drafting or levying. The age that people were taken was often 8-10. A lot of the times you had people forcibly maim their children to avoid being ripped away from their family while other families did give away their sons typically because they were already poor and opportunities were limited. After being taken these kids often didn't get to see their families until they rose up high enough in the ranks to win some form of autonomy.

    This is a sore subject in the region and is not well known in many western European countries or in america and I think it is important that anyone that is trying to understand this from the outside know that the issue is pretty complex.

  24. 13:04 it's called the deluge and it's most destructive war poland ever faced !!! It should have a video of it's own

  25. The Ottomans enslaved Christians as soldiers and as prostitutes in the harem, I'd rather not be taxed racially or enslaved in the Muslim world just because I have a belief

  26. I'm not really into the whole trying to attempt to portray Ottoman harems as some sort of enlightened institution that treated women equally, and was religiously tolerant, even compared to 17th century contemporaries. Polygamy for instance was not a prudent choice because of a lack of men, it had been practiced by most previous caliphs because women were property, and having more women was a status symbol.

    The script also glosses over leaping from "the Ottomans were religiously tolerant" to "the Ottomans were run by a caste of enslaved infidels kidnapped as children."

    To balance things out I would have been happy if there was at least some mention of the roll of slavery and forced castration in Ottoman society compared to Europe.

  27. I love CC, but Suleyman the Magnificent (3:59) expanded the Ottoman's holding in southeastern Europe, not southwestern Europe. Still much better job than what I can do.

  28. Constitutuionalism and absolutism is fine but there's also feudalism to consider and for it's constitutional counterparts unitarism and federalism.

  29. Y'all better not be Putin Russian history in an honest light… otherwise you're gonna get really familiar and enlightened about the 'life in a box' monologue from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

  30. 03:20 Ah yes, the benevolent Ottomans. “Heavy Taxes” (ahem, slavery, forced servitude, forced conversions—see also Janissaries). Then goes on to talk about ‘kingmaking’ being kinda messy. And wait, how’d they get into Hungary again? Kindheartedness compared to the locals? Thanks, John, sugar coating it really helps the narrative.

  31. I cannot really digest this episode. There are too many seemingly disconnected facts. I just remember he talks about the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, but don't really understand how the central theme(the extent of state power?) relates to the two empires. Perhaps it is due to my unfamiliarity of the eastern european history. I wonder if anyone shares my confusion.

  32. idiot. ottoman empire is NOT eastern europe!!! they had some parts in europe. that doesnt make them eastern europeans. moreover they came to asia minor from uzbekistan. but you dont care anyway about that..

  33. Jadwiga was officially titled King of Poland, not Queen. In order to prevent her foreign-born husband (William of Austria) from being able to claim the title of King of Poland. Because who wants a foreigner to be monarch of your country?

  34. Jadwiga was officially titled King of Poland, not Queen. In order to prevent her foreign-born husband (William of Austria) from being able to claim the title of King of Poland. Because who wants a foreigner to be monarch of your country?

  35. Guys, Ivan IV did not kill his son. It's just a myth that was spreaded by Repin's picture. Please, check this information and don't disseminate wrong facts

  36. 2:55 I’m sorry but when did Sweden annexed Prussia? I would understand if it was Brandenburg, because Poland was the “de jure” ruler of Prussia but not the “de facto” ruler that was The state of Brandenburg in Germany or at that the HRE, but I have never read of Sweden annexing Prussia, maybe momentarily occupying it, but I wouldn’t put it as part of Sweden
    BTW: love your videos

  37. This is incredibly informative. Thank you for giving me a starting point for eastern European history instead of British 🙄. I love the commentary on religion though 😂😂

  38. Thanks for saying the truth about Islam and its history compared to what christians did in the medieval times, in a time full of propagandas and fake news

  39. The Cossacks were the people of Ukraine well those of them who had taken up the nomadic lifestyle of their former Tatar overlords. Calling them mercenaries and bandits is a bit harsh.

  40. (the slavs (slavic people) did not call slaves ¨slaves¨, they called them ¨serfs¨. non-east-european people like the swedish, dutch, danish and british did call ¨slaves¨ ¨slaves¨ and still do till this day…)


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