By 1854, as the nineteenth century showed the continued waning of the Ottoman Empire, the "Eastern Question" asked what to do with the "Sick Man of Europe". In its heyday, the empire ruled from the ancient Byzantine capital of Constantinople over lands stretching from the Balkans to Mesopotamia across North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.
March 28, 1854 - France and Britain join Eastern WarWhile the Ottomans seemed to maintain eternal war with Austria and Russia over influence in the Balkans, nations such as Spain and France pushed back its control to Tunisia. In 1832, the Greeks won their independence with aid from France, the United Kingdom, and, especially, Russia. The Ottomans faced further revolts from the Janissaries as well as a rebellion by Muhammad Ali, the Wali of Egypt. In the 1830s, Ali's wars secured independence for Egypt and Sudan and then marched outward, seizing Syria and Arabia. Ali was finally defeated by military action backing up the Convention of London, where the major powers of Europe agreed to make him hereditary ruler of Egypt in exchange for his conquered lands.
Another challenge to the Ottomans came when Napoleon III, newly upon the throne of France, gave a show of force and demanded to be made the defender of Christian citizens in empire. The Ottomans refused, citing the 1774 Treaty of Kücük Kaynarca with Russia, which named the Tsar the defender of Orthodox Christians, a position which had been used to step in on affairs involving Greece. Eventually the Ottomans caved to Napoleon's demands, inciting Nicholas I of Russia to move troops to the border on the Danube. When the sultan rejected (at Britain's advice) a new treaty granting Russia control of Orthodox as France had authority over Catholic Christianity, Nicholas invaded the Ottomans' Danubian provinces. After having ruled Russia for nearly thirty years, serving as the "Policeman of Europe" and aiding in the suppression of the Revolutions of 1848, Nicholas felt that he had earned the conquest.
The rest of Europe, however, convened at Vienna, hoping to find a diplomatic solution that did not contribute to the expansion of Russian power. On the surface, Nicholas agreed with their new treaty, but he began maneuvers under the table toward France, promising them North Africa in exchange for bringing down the Ottoman Empire. When the Sultan refused to agree to the ambiguous treaty set forth at Vienna, France marched out and joined the Russian cause. The other nations were shocked but realized that the time had come to solve the Eastern Question. Austria hurried to join the Russian alliance and secure influence on lands soon to be liberated in the Balkans. Prussia, with nothing to gain, maintained its neutrality. Britain alone stood alongside the Ottomans, attempting to maintain status quo in the Middle East.
The Eastern War dragged on for three years, Alexander II succeeding his father in 1855. Despite the clear military advantage of the Franco-Russo-Austrian alliance, they were beleaguered by antiquated leadership. French forces liberated Egypt and then became cut off by British naval superiority in the Mediterranean. The British were able to shell French fortifications from sea, but could make no headway and faced humiliations such as the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Tunis. In the Balkans, trains and telegraphy proved effective, but the masses of troops in movement brought unprecedented levels of disease. Photography enabled an explosion of war-journalism, which ultimately contributed to the disgust of the public. Britain suffered a "snowball riot" on January 21, 1855, when protesters threw snowballs and eventually had to be quelled by soldiers.
Due to the unpopularity of the war, Britain began discussing peace through Prussia as an arbiter for peace in 1856. The Ottoman Empire was shrunk to Asia Minor, and its many provinces became nation-states while Palestine was granted a special international protectorate status to preserve rights to Catholicism and Orthodoxy there. No sooner had the diplomats signed the documents than the industrialists swarmed into the region, attempting to dominate new markets. France with its heavy influence in Egypt had a head start in the Middle East and began construction on the lucrative Suez Canal as soon as the war was over. Britain reinforced relations with Persia as a buffer for its colonies in India. In the Balkans, the Austrians and Russians attempted to exert control over the new nations. When the Austro-Prussian War began in 1866, Russia and Italy contributed, tearing the empire apart much as had been done to the Ottomans. Italy affirmed itself with the Third War of Unification adding Venice, and Prussia formed a German Empire out of its German Confederation, seizing extensive lands from the fallen Austrians.
For two generations, enormous empires sprawled over Europe. France and Britain competed abroad while Germany and Russia divided Eastern Europe. New major world powers arose as Japan defeated Russia in the Pacific, and the United States made a tour of its Great White Fleet. The empires came to battle after the assassination of German Crown Prince William in 1914 by a secret society bent on ending exterior influence in the Balkans while he was touring Sarajevo. Germany invaded Serbia, Russia moved in to protect it, prompting its ally France to move on Germany. Britain came in as an ally against France, spreading the war over the globe. Eventually Germany defeated Russia, sparking a civil war that would lead to a new Communist regime, ideas which spread to France's many lost colonies and to France itself, creating a Second World which came into an ideological Cold War with the First.