«The Public Defense of the Doctoral Dissertation in Medieval Studies of Tamás Kiss on CYPRUS IN OTTOMAN AND VENETIAN POLITICAL IMAGINATION, C. ...»
The Public Defense of the Doctoral Dissertation in Medieval Studies
CYPRUS IN OTTOMAN AND VENETIAN POLITICAL
will be held on
Tuesday, 7 June 2016, at 2:00 pm
Senate Room – Monument Building
Central European University (CEU)
Nádor u. 9, Budapest
László Kontler (Department of History – CEU
Emrah Safa Gürkan, İstanbul 29 Mayıs University (external reader and external member) Pál Ács, Research Centre for the Humanities of HAS (external member) Tijana Krstić, CEU, Medieval Studies Department (supervisor) György Endre Szőnyi, CEU, Medieval Studies Department (co-supervisor) Marcell Sebők, CEU, Medieval Studies Department (member) External Readers Palmira Brummett, University of Tennessee and Brown University (external reader) Emrah Safa Gürkan, İstanbul 29 Mayıs University (external reader and external member) The doctoral dissertation is available for inspection in the CEU-ELTE Medieval Library, Budapest, 6-8 Múzeum krt.
DOCTORAL DISSERTATION ABSTRACT
The period under scrutiny is between the island’s Venetian annexation in 1489 and the aftermath of its Ottoman conquest in 1571. In investigating the ways in which different Venetian and Ottoman actors attached historical, mythological, political and eschatological connotations to Cyprus or exploited the already existing ones for their political ends, I pick apart various early modern discursive threads about the Venetian and Ottoman occupations of Cyprus, and then study how they were entangled within and across religious and political boundaries in the early modern Mediterranean and beyond.
The result is the only cultural study of how the two major sixteenth-century Mediterranean empires contested the island and what it meant for their respective imperial projects.
The Venetian annexation of Cyprus had a decisive influence on Venetian imperial identity and, consequently, state iconography. The Ottoman attack on Cyprus increased apocalyptic fears throughout the wider Mediterranean region and, after a devastating series of hard-won battles, resulted in one of the last Ottoman major territorial gains in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the formation of a long-awaited Holy League in the West. In 1571 the League, as is well known, defeated the Ottoman navy at Lepanto, thereby inaugurating the Battle of Lepanto as a major theme of literary, artistic, and historical works produced across Europe. Yet, the Veneto-Ottoman contestation of Cyprus has so far received almost no attention from cultural historians.
Modern scholarship typically cites pragmatic reasons for the Ottoman attack on Cyprus in 1570: the newly inaugurated Sultan Selim II (r. 1566-74) needed a military success to prove himself, and the fact that the sea routes between the Ottoman capital and Syria and Egypt were repeatedly disrupted by pirates taking refuge in Venetian Cyprus, made this island a logical target. However, as this dissertation posits, already in the early modern period Cyprus became enveloped in a variety of symbolic discourses and narratives about the conquest by both Venetians and Ottomans that make this story much less straightforward. In what follows I single out four topoi that appear both in early modern and modern scholarly narratives of what taking and keeping Cyprus may have “meant” to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Venetians and Ottomans.
These four are:
Queen Caterina Cornaro’s supposed gracious ceding of her kingdom to and her adoption by the Venetian state in 1489; the ambiguous casus belli of Sultan Selim II; the Selimiye mosque’s supposed ideological relationship to the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus; and a performance at Prince Mehmed’s circumcision festival in 1582 that allegedly re-enacted the Ottoman occupation of Cyprus.
Notwithstanding their frequent appearance in the literature, as this dissertation demonstrates, ideological claims embedded in these topoi prove unfounded upon closer inspection. I argue that these topoi could survive from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the modern day only because they have come down to us as parts of dominant western historical narratives. The Venetian state’s mythology was ultimately more powerful than the Cornaro family’s narrative about the state’s forceful seizing of the crown of Cyprus that rightfully belonged to Caterina Cornaro. The topos of the drunkard sultan’s craving for Cypriot wine and other fictitious causes of war discussed in early modern western sources were more relatable than the complex diplomatic machinations behind the attack and internal political debates related to it that have to be reconstructed from Venetian and Ottoman archival sources. Similarly, western sources affirming a western misreading of the purpose of the oddly located (as in, not in the capital) and awe-inspiring Selimiye mosque in Edirne were inevitably better circulated than Ottoman sources revealing the original, eschatologically-inspired purposes of building that mosque. Western first- and second-hand accounts circulating throughout Europe about a mock battle at an Ottoman festival staged to exasperate the Venetian guests were plausible from a western point of view and more readily available to modern historians than those sources which could have disproved them. In this dissertation, I go behind the façade of these dominant historical narratives by untangling the discursive threads that they are made of and decoding their central themes through a dialogue of Venetian/Western and Ottoman sources.
Consequently, in Chapter 1, I unravel the cultural and political context of the Venetian state’s forging a narrative about its annexation of Cyprus against the narrative of the Cornaro family; in Chapter 2, instead of perpetuating the rumours about Selim’s striving for Cypriot wine and his advisor Joseph Nassi’s aspirations for the Cypriot crown, I examine the diplomatic negotiations that preceded the War of Cyprus and the Ottoman casus belli that sought to justify the war to the enemy on the one hand, and to the Ottoman public on the other; I challenge western “misreadings” of the Selimiye mosque and offer a cultural historical context within the framework of a shared Christian-Muslim imperial as well as eschatological tradition lending rationale to both the construction of the mosque and the Ottoman attack on Cyprus in chapters 3 and 4; and in Chapter 5 I investigate the narrative and demonstrative purposes of the performance in 1582 that has been interpreted by both contemporaries and modern historians as the re-enactment of the conquest of Cyprus.
While political imagination about Cyprus in the Ottoman Empire seems to have been used to legitimize Sultan Selim II’s rule, and later to augment the late-sixteenthcentury styling of the House of Osman’s messianic profile, imagining Cyprus for political ends was, in Venice, part of a debate about the very political identity of the republic and its elites. Therefore, in this dissertation I examine how representatives of the city-state, by imagining the political significance of annexing and possessing Cyprus, handled the problem of Venice’s dual political identity through various commissioned artworks, and how the patrician victims of Venice’s imperial expansion responded to it. I also investigate what the specifics of this communication imply about the ways early modern Mediterranean Empires operated.
The early modern “myth of Venice,” or the idealized attributes of “Venetianness” and their expression in various art forms and literary genres, was incompatible with one of Venice’s “equal” patrician families, the Cornaros, holding royal titles and practicing monarchical rights. By flouting the Venetian ideals of modesty and equality, the Cornaros and other patrician families, like the late fifteenth-century Barbarigo doges (Marco and Agostino) attempted to refute the myth (or follow a counter-myth) of Venice. They looked up to the resplendent lifestyles of their Roman and Florentine peers, displaying quasimonarchical power. The ensuing contradictions between political identity and practice of power were addressed by the Venetian state, the doges, and the Cornaro family through allegorical imagery of their direct or symbolic association with Cyprus. The messages through which the representatives of the Venetian state and the city state’s patrician families expressed these political imaginations were aimed predominantly at a domestic audience. Thus, even though these messages were inevitably picked up on by western interpreters (and critics) of Venice’s prosperity and political as well as social stability, the senders and receivers of these messages shared a dominant meaning system (i.e. a coherent network of shared ideas, values, beliefs and causal knowledge—that is ruling ideas).
In parallel with the Venetian examples, I also analyze the ways in which Ottoman individuals imagined Cyprus for their own political purposes, including Selim II, who followed in both Mehmed II’s and Süleyman’s footsteps in legitimizing his power by fashioning himself through the construction of his sultanic mosque as the Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-65 CE) of his time as well as the messianic ruler whose association with Cyprus on the eve of the Apocalypse had been foretold by so many an oracle. However, at the same time, I also observe what communicating these imaginations tell the modern historian about the dynamics of late sixteenth-century Mediterranean empires. Just like with the previous, Venetian example, some messages containing Ottoman political imaginations about Cyprus were aimed at a domestic audience—although perhaps not exclusively. Regardless, western visitors to the Ottoman Empire and sedentary authors alike interpreted these messages with confidence. As a result, the “authorial intent” of Sultan Selim II’s mosque in Edirne was ill-decoded on the western receiver’s end. These misreadings receive special significance in discussing inter-imperial communication.
By borrowing from Stuart Hall’s “Encoding/Decoding” theory I argue that misinterpretations were possible because there was an asymmetry between the Venetian and Ottoman actors’ “meaning structures” which determined the possible “dominant,” “negotiated” and “oppositional” readings of messages. As opposed to his theoretical forerunners like Saussure and Jakobson, Stuart Hall’s model is not about interpersonal but mass communication, which emphasizes the importance of active interpretation. Although originally proposed as a model for television communication in 1973, Stuart Hall’s theory is highly relevant for my analysis of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century intra- and interimperial communication. Firstly, all of the cases discussed in this dissertation involve imperial messages aimed at large audiences, that is to say instances of early modern mass communication, even where interpersonal communication intervened. (Take for instance the Ottomans’ testing their tentative casus belli on the Venetian bailo Barbaro in Chapter 2.) Secondly, Hall’s theory helps explain why some messages containing political imaginations were correctly decoded by the intended audiences while ill-decoded by others. Thirdly, by allowing the notion of “culture” to be bypassed, it helps avoid essentialist explanations such as blaming the different degrees of (un-)successful interpretation on “cultural differences,” which would make little sense in analyzing communication in an early modern imperial setting.
Hall’s theory opened the way for a semiotic approach to communication models such as the cultural semiotic model of Yuri Lotman. According to Lotman, the semiosphere, one of the key concepts of cultural semiotics, is a set of inter-related sign processes (semiosis) with social, linguistic, and even geographical delimitations, outside which “meaning” cannot exist. Consequently, decoding (i.e. translating) a message from outside (or even, in fact, from a different code within the semiosphere) will generate a message different from the original one. Thus, essentially, both Hall and Lotman argue that translation not only happens between two codes (“languages”) but also between the socially, geographically, ideologically (etc.) determined and confined mechanisms within which the “sender” created the message and the “receiver” interprets (“consumes”) it.