Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine
Empire which occurred after a siege laid by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Sultan Mehmed II.
siege lasted from Thursday, 5 April
until Tuesday, 29
(according to the Julian Calendar
), when the city fell to the
Ottomans. Constantinople was defended by the army of Emperor
. The event marked the
end of the political independence of the millennium-old Byzantine Empire
, which was by then already
fragmented into several Greek
his accession to the Ottoman throne, Mehmed had been applying
pressure on Constantinople and the Byzantines by building forts
along the Dardanelles.
On 5 April, he laid siege to Constantinople
with an army numbering 80,000 to 200,000 men. The city was defended
by an army of 7,000 of whom 2,000 were foreigners. The siege began with
heavy Ottoman artillery firing at the city's
walls while a smaller Ottoman force captured the rest of
the Byzantine strongholds in the area. Ottoman attempts to
blockade the city completely failed at first owing to the boom blocking the entrance to the Golden Horn thus allowing four Christian ships to enter the
Mehmed had his ships rolled into the Golden Horn on
greased logs and a Byzantine effort to destroy the ships with
failed, allowing the Ottomans
to seal the city off.
The Turkish frontal assaults on the walls were all repulsed with
heavy casualties and the Turkish attempts to undermine the walls
were all countered and abandoned. Mehmed's offer to lift the siege,
if he was given the city, was rejected. On 22 May, the moon
rose in eclipse prophesying the fall of the city and a few days
later Constantine received news that no Venetian relief fleet was coming.
After midnight of
the 29, the Ottoman army attacked the walls. The first wave of
irregulars was thrown back. The second Turkish wave of Anatolians managed to breach the Blachernae section of walls.
The defenders pushed back
the Anatolians and managed to hold out against the Sultan's elite
. During the fighting, the
commander, Giovanni Giustiniani
wounded and retreated to his ships with his men. The Emperor and
his men continued to hold off the Turks until the Turks discovered
an unlocked gate upon which they flooded into the city. Constantine
reportedly fell leading a charge against the invaders, though his
body was never found. The last defenders were subdued and the Turks
proceeded to loot the city.
This battle marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, an empire which
had lasted for over 1,100 years. The city's fall was a massive blow
for Christendom. Pope Nicholas V
ordered an immediate counter-attack, but his death soon after
marked the end of the plan. Mehmed made Constantinople his capital
and proceeded to conquer the last two Byzantine states, the
Despotate of Morea
Empire of Trebizond
Greeks fled the city and migrated to other parts of Europe, in particular Italy.
move is thought to have helped fuel the Renaissance
. The Fall of Constantinople is seen
by some scholars as being a key event in leading to the end of the
, and some mark the end of
the Middle Ages by this event.
State of the Byzantine Empire
In the approximately 1,100 years of the existence of the Byzantine Empire
, Constantinople had been
besieged many times but had been captured only once, during the
in 1204. The crusaders
had most likely not intended to conquer Byzantium from the
beginning, and an unstable Latin state
was established in Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire fell apart
into a number of Greek successor states, notably Nicaea
. The Greek states fought as
allies against the Latin establishments but also as rivals against
each other over the Byzantine throne. The Nicaean Greeks were the
first to re-conquer Constantinople from the Latins in 1261. In the
following two centuries, the much-weakened Byzantine Empire was
facing attacks from the Latins, the Serbians, the Bulgarians and
most importantly, the Ottoman Turks.
In 1453 the empire consisted of little more than city of Constantinople itself and a portion of the Peloponnese (centered on the fortress of Mystras). The Empire of Trebizond, a completely independent successor state formed in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade also survived on the coast of the Black Sea.
When Sultan Murad II
was succeeded by his
son Mehmed II
in early 1451
, it was widely believed that the new Sultan would
turn out to be an incapable ruler who could pose no great threat to
Christian possessions in the Balkans and the Aegean. This belief
was reinforced by Mehmed's friendly assurances to envoys that were
sent to him at the assumption of his reign. During the spring and
summer of 1452, Mehmed II, whose great
grandfather Bayezid I had previously built
a fortress on the Asian
side of the Bosporus called Anadolu HisarńĪ, now built a second fortress several miles north of
Constantinople on the European side, right
across the strait from Anadolu HisarńĪ, which would increase Turkish
influence on the straits. An especially relevant aspect of this
fortress was its ability to prevent help from Genoese colonies on the Black Sea coast from reaching the city. This castle was
HisarńĪ; Rumeli and Anadolu being the names of European
and Asian portions of the Ottoman Empire,
The new fortress is also known as
which has a dual meaning in Turkish
; strait-blocker or throat-cutter,
emphasizing its strategic position. The Greek
name of the fortress,
, also bears the same double-meaning.
Byzantine emperor Constantine XI
appealed to Western Europe for help, but his request did not meet
the expected attention. Ever since the mutual excommunication
of the Orthodox
and Roman Catholic
churches in 1054, the Roman
Catholic West had been trying to gain domination over the East;
union had been attempted before at Lyons
in 1274 and, indeed, some
Paleologan emperors had been received in the Latin Church since.
John VIII Palaeologus had
attempted to negotiate Union with Pope
Eugene IV, and the Council held in 1439 resulted
in the proclamation, in Florence, of a Bull of Union.
following years, a massive propaganda initiative was undertaken by
anti-unionist forces in Constantinople and the population as well
as the leadership of the Byzantine Church was in fact bitterly
divided. Latent ethnic hatred
Greeks and Italians stemming from the events of 1204 and the
sack of Constantinople
by the Latins,
also played a significant role, and finally the Union failed,
greatly annoying Pope Nicholas V
the Roman Catholic Church.
In the summer of 1452, when Rumeli Hisari was completed and the
threat had become imminent, Constantine wrote to the Pope,
promising to implement the Union, which was declared valid by a
half-hearted imperial court on Tuesday 12 December 1452.
he was eager for an advantage, Pope Nicholas V did not have the
influence the Byzantines thought he had over the Western Kings and
Princes, some of whom were wary of increasing Papal control, and
these had not the wherewithal to contribute to the effort,
especially in light of France and England being weakened from the Hundred Years' War, Spain being in the
final part of the Reconquista, the
internecine fighting in the German
Principalities, and Hungary and Poland's defeat at
the Battle of
Varna of 1444.
Although some troops did arrive
from the mercantile city states in the north of Italy, the Western
contribution was not adequate to counterbalance Ottoman strength.
Some Western individuals, however, came to help defend the city out
of their own account; one of them was an accomplished soldier from
Genoa, Giovanni Giustiniani
who arrived with 700 armed men in January 1453. A specialist in
defending walled cities, he was immediately given the overall
command of the defense of the land walls by the emperor. Around the
same time, the captains of the Venetian ships which happened to be
present in the Golden Horn offered their services to the Emperor,
barring contrary orders from Venice, and Pope Nicholas undertook to
send three ships laden with provisions, which set sail near the end
of March. In Venice, meanwhile, deliberations were taking place
concerning the kind of assistance the Republic would lend to
Constantinople. The Senate decided upon sending a fleet, but there
were delays, and when it finally set out late in April, it was
already too late for it to be able to partake in the battle.
Undermining Byzantine morale further, 7 Italian ships with around
700 men slipped out of the capital at the same moment when Giovanni
arrived, men who had sworn to defend the capital. At the same time,
Constantine's attempts to appease the Sultan with gifts ended in
the execution of the former's ambassadors - even Byzantine
diplomacy could not save the city.
The army defending Constantinople was small; it totalled about
7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreigners. When the siege began the
population of the city amounted, including therefugees from the
surrounding area, to about 50,000 people. The city had about
20 km of walls (Theodosian
Walls: 5.5 km; sea walls along the Golden Horn: 7 km; sea walls along the Sea of
Marmara: 7.5 km), probably the strongest set of
fortified walls in existence at the time.
The walls had
recently been repaired (under John
) and were in fairly good shape, giving the defenders
sufficient reason to believe that they could hold out until help
from the West arrived. In addition, the defenders were relatively
well-equipped fleet of 26 ships: 5 from Genoa, 5 from
Venice, 3 from
Venetian Crete, 1 from
Ancona, 1 from
Aragon, 1 from
France, and about
The Ottomans, on the other hand, had a larger
force. Recent estimates span between 80,000 soldiers, including
mounted troops and 5/6,000‚Äď10,000 Janissaries
. Also, the Serbian lord
supplied an additional 1,500 Serbian cavalry as part of his
obligation to the Ottoman sultan even though, just a few months
prior, he had supplied the money for the reconstruction of the
walls of Constantinople. Contemporary witnesses of the siege, who
tend to exaggerate the military power of the Sultan, provide higher
numbers (Nicol√≤ Barbaro: 160,000; the Florentine merchant Jacopo
Tedaldi and the Great Logothete George
Sphrantzes: 200,000; the Cardinal Isidore of Kiev and the Archbishop of
Mytilene Leonardo di Chio: 300,000).
built a fleet to besiege the city from the sea (partially manned by
Greek sailors from Gallipoli). Contemporary estimates of the
strength of the Ottoman fleet span between about 100 ships
(Tedaldi), 145 (Barbaro), 160 (Ubertino Pusculo), 200‚Äď250 (Isidore
of Kiev, Leonardo di Chio) to 430 (Sphrantzes). A more realistic
modern estimate puts the total at 6 large galleys, 10 ordinary
galleys, 15 smaller galleys, 75 large rowing boats, and 20
According to Nicolle (2000), the idea that Constantinople was
inevitably doomed is wrong, and the overall situation was not as
one-sided as a simple glance at a map might suggest.
Equipment and strategies
Prior to the siege of Constantinople it was known that the Ottomans
had the ability to cast medium-sized cannons, but the range of some
pieces they were able to put to field far surpassed the defenders'
expectations. One cannon was 27 feet long, and able to fire 1,300
lbs over the distance of one mile. Instrumental to this Ottoman
advancement in arms production was a somewhat mysterious figure by
the name of Orban
, a Hungarian (though some
suggest he was German).
Modern painting of Mehmed II and the
Ottoman army approaching Constantinople, transporting a giant
The master founder initially tried to sell his services to the
Byzantines, who were, however, unable to secure the funds needed to
hire him. Orban then left Constantinople and
approached Mehmed II, claiming that his weapon could blast 'the
walls of Babylon itself'. Given abundant funds and materials, the
Hungarian engineer built the gun within three months at Adrianople, from which it was dragged by sixty oxen to Constantinople.
In the meantime, Orban also produced other
cannon instrumental for the Turkish siege forces.
Orban's cannon had several drawbacks, however: it took three hours
to reload; the cannon balls were in very short supply; and the
cannon is said to have collapsed under its own recoil after six
weeks (this fact however is disputed, being only reported in the
letter of Archbishop Leonardo di Chio and the later and often
unreliable Russian chronicle of Nestor
). Having previously established a large foundry
approximately 150 miles away, Mehmed now had to undergo the
painstaking process of transporting his massive pieces of
artillery. Orban's giant cannon was said to have been accompanied
by a crew of 60 oxen and over 400 men.
Mehmed planned to attack the Theodosian
, the intricate series of walls and ditches protecting
Constantinople from an attack from the West, the only part of the
city not surrounded by water. His army encamped outside the city on
the Monday after Easter, 2 April 1453
The bulk of the Ottoman army were encamped south of the Golden
Horn. The regular European troops, stretched out along the entire
length of the walls, were commanded by Karadja Pasha. The regular troops
from Anatolia under Ishak Pasha were stationed south of the Lycus
down to the Sea of Marmara.
Mehmed himself erected his
red-and-gold tent near the Mesoteichion
, where the guns
and the elite regiments, the Janissaries
, were positioned. The Bashi-bazouks
were spread out behind the front
lines. Other troops under Zaganos
were employed north of the Golden Horn. Communication was
maintained by a road that had been constructed over the marshy head
of the Horn.
On April 5
, as the Sultan himself arrived
with his last troops, the defenders took up their positions. As
their numbers were insufficient to occupy the walls in their
entirety, it had been decided that only the outer walls would be
manned. Constantine and his Greek troops guarded the
, the middle section of the land walls, where
they were crossed by the river Lycus. This section was considered
the weakest spot in the walls and an attack was feared here most.
Giustiniani was stationed to the north of the emperor, at the
); later during the siege, he was
shifted to the Mesoteichion
to join Constantine, leaving
to the charge of the Bocchiardi brothers.
and his Venetians were stationed in the Blachernae palace, together with Teodoro Caristo, the Langasco
brothers, and Archbishop Leonardo of Chios.
To the left of
the emperor, further south, were the commanders Cataneo, with
Genoese troops, and Theophilus Palaeologus, who guarded the
with Greek soldiers. The section of the land walls from
the Pegae Gate to the Golden Gate (itself guarded by a certain
Genoese called Manuel) was defended by the Venetian Filippo
Contarini, while Demetrius Cantacuzenus had taken position on the
southernmost part of the Theodosian wall. The sea walls were manned
more sparsely, with Jacobo Contarini at Stoudion
, a makeshift defense force of Greek monks
to his left hand, and prince Orhan at the Harbour of Eleutherius.
P√©r√© Julia was stationed at the Great Palace with Genoese troops;
Cardinal Isidore of Kiev guarded the tip of the peninsula near the
sea walls at the southern shore of the Golden Horn were defended by Venetian and Genoese sailors under
Gabriele Trevisano. Two tactical reserves were kept behind in
the city, one in the Petra district just behind the land walls and
one near the Church of the Holy Apostles, under the command of Lucas Notaras and Nicephorus Palaeologus,
The Genoese Alviso Diedo commanded the ships
in the harbor. Although the Byzantines also had cannons, they were
much smaller than those of the Ottomans and the recoil
tended to damage their own walls.
Siege of the city
Siege of Constantinople
At the beginning of the siege, Mehmed sent out some of his best
troops to reduce the remaining Byzantine strongholds outside the
city of Constantinople. The fortress of Therapia on the Bosphorus
and a smaller castle at the village of Studius near the Sea of
Marmara were taken within a few days. The Princes'
Islands in the Sea of Marmara were taken by Admiral
Mehmed's massive cannon fired on the walls for weeks, but due to
its imprecision and extremely slow rate of reloading the Byzantines
were able to repair most of the damage after each shot, limiting
the cannon's effect.
Meanwhile, despite some probing attacks, the
Ottoman fleet under Suleiman
Baltoghlu could not enter the Golden Horn due to the boom the
Byzantines had laid across the entrance, and although one of its
main tasks was to prevent any ships from outside from entering the
Golden Horn, on 20 April a small flotilla of four Christian ships
managed to slip in after some heavy fighting, an event which
strengthened the morale of the defenders and caused embarrassment
to the Sultan.
Baltoghlu's life was spared after his
subordinates testified to his brave yet fruitless efforts to
Mehmed. To circumvent the boom, Mehmed ordered the
construction of a road of greased logs across Galata on the north
side of the Golden Horn, and rolled his ships across on 22
April. This seriously threatened the flow of
supplies from Genovese ships from the - nominally neutral - colony of
demoralized the Byzantine defenders.
On the night of 28
April, an attempt was made to destroy the Ottoman ships already in
the Golden Horn using fire ships
, but the
Ottomans had been warned in advance and forced the Christians to
retreat with heavy losses. From then on, the defenders were forced
to disperse part of their forces to the Golden Horn walls, causing
defense in other sections of the walls to weaken.
The Turks had made several frontal assaults on the land wall, but
were always repelled with heavy losses. From mid-May to 25 May, the
Ottomans sought to break through the walls by constructing
underground tunnels in an effort to mine
them. Many of the sappers were Serbians sent from Novo Brdo by the
were placed under the command of Zaganos
. However, the Byzantines employed an engineer named
(who was said to be
German but was probably Scottish), who had countermines dug,
allowing Byzantine troops to enter the mines and kill the Turkish
workers. The Byzantines intercepted the first Serbian tunnel on the
night of 16 May. Subsequent tunneling efforts were interrupted on
21, 23, and 25 May, destroying them with Greek fire and vigorous
combat. On 23 May, the Byzantines captured and tortured two Turkish
officers, who revealed the location of all the Turkish tunnels,
which were then destroyed.
Mehmed offered to lift the siege if they gave him the city. When
this was declined, Mehmed planned to overpower the walls by sheer
force, knowing that the weak Byzantine defense would be worn out
before he ran out of troops. Around this time, Mehmed had a final
council with his senior officers. Here he encountered some
resistance; one of his Viziers, the veteran Halil Pasha
, who had
always disapproved of Mehmed's plans to conquer the city, now
admonished him to abandon the siege in the face of recent
adversity. Halil was overruled by Zaganos Pasha, who insisted on an
immediate attack. Having been bribed by the Byzantines, Halil Pasha
was put to death later that year.
On May 22
, 1453, the moon, symbol of
Constantinople, rose in dark eclipse
fulfilling a prophecy on the city's demise. Four days later, the
whole city was blotted out by a thick fog, a condition unknown in
that part of the world in May. When the fog lifted that evening, a strange
light was seen playing about the dome of the Hagia Sophia, and from the city walls lights were seen in the
countryside to the West, far behind the Turkish camp.
light around the dome was interpreted by some as the Holy Spirit
departing from the Cathedral, while
there was a distant hope that the lights were the campfires of the
troops of John Hunyadi
who had come to
relieve the city.
The following day a small Venetian ship of 12 entered the Capital
and reported to the Emperor that no Venetian relief fleet was on
its way after having searched the Aegean. Nonetheless the Emperor
was able to receive the aid of the 12 in the defense of the
Mehmed called a war council on 26 May and at his tent declared that
the siege had gone on long enough. Preparations were to be made in
the evening and continue on into the next day on the 27th. Prayer
and resting would be then granted to the soldiers on the 28th and
thereafter the final assault would be launched. For 36 hours after
the war council the Ottomans mobilized their manpower for extensive
preparations for an all-out assault. Prior to this the Ottomans had
tried to starve the city and make notable breaches in the walls
with artillery, occasionally testing the sea walls with his
On May 28, as the Ottoman army prepared for the final assault,
large-scale religious processions were held in the city. In the
evening a last solemn ceremony was held in the Hagia Sophia, in
which the Emperor and representatives of both the Latin and Greek
church partook, together with nobility from both sides. Shortly
after midnight the attack began. The first wave of attackers, the
(auxiliaries), were poorly trained and equipped, and were meant
only to kill as many defenders as possible. The second assault,
consisting largely of Anatolians, focused on a section of the Blachernae walls in the northwest part of the city, which had
been partially damaged by the cannon.
This section of the
walls had been built much more recently, in the eleventh century,
and was much weaker; the crusaders in 1204 had broken through the
walls there. The Ottoman attackers also managed to break through,
but were just as quickly pushed back out by the defenders. The
Christians also managed for a time to hold off the third attack by
the Sultan's elite Janissaries
, but the
Genoese general in charge of the land troops, Giovanni Giustiniani
, was grievously
wounded during the attack, and his evacuation from the ramparts
caused a panic in the ranks of the defenders. Giustiniani was
carried to Chios, where he
succumbed to his wounds a few days later.
With Giustiniani's Genoese troops retreating into the city and
towards the harbour, Constantine and his men, now left to their own
devices, kept fighting and managed to hold off the attackers for a
this point, some historians suggest that the Kerkoporta gate in the Blachernae section had been left unlocked, and the Ottomans
soon discovered this mistake.
The Ottomans rushed in. Around
the same time, the defenders were being overwhelmed at several
points in Constantine's section. When Turkish flags were seen
flying above the Kerkoporta, a panic ensued and the defense
collapsed, as Janissary soldiers, led by UlubatlńĪ Hasan
pressed forward. It is
said that Constantine, throwing aside his purple regalia, led the
final charge against the oncoming Ottomans, dying in the ensuing
battle in the streets like his soldiers, although his ultimate fate
initial assault, the Ottoman army fanned out along the main
thoroughfare of the city, the Mese, past the great forums, and past
the Church of
the Holy Apostles, which Mehmed II wanted to provide a seat for his
newly appointed patriarch which would help him better control his
Mehmed II had sent an advance guard to
protect key buildings such as the Holy Apostles, as he did not wish
to establish his new capital in a thoroughly devastated city.
The Army converged upon the Augusteum
vast square that fronted the great church of Hagia Sophia whose
bronze gates were barred by a huge throng of civilians inside the
building, hoping for divine protection at this late hour. After the
doors were breached, the troops separated the congregation
according to what price they might bring on the slave markets.
There was some raping and pillaging according to the English
historian John Julius Norwich
Soldiers fought over the possession of some of the spoils of war
. According to the Venetian
surgeon Nicolo Barbaro "all through the day the Turks made a great
slaugh¬≠ter of Christians through the city". At the conclusion of
the siege, Mehmet ordered all looting to stop and sent his troops
back outside the walls.
Byzantine historian George
was in the city, and witnessed the fall of
Constantinople. He later recalled in his chronicle about the fall
of the city, what happened at the end of the third day of the
On the third day after the fall of our city, the Sultan
celebrated his victory with a great, joyful triumph.
He issued a proclamation: the citizens of all ages who
had managed to escape detection were to leave their hiding places
throughout the city and come out into the open, as they were remain
free and no question would be asked.
He further declared the restoration of houses and
property to those who had abandoned our city before the siege, if
they returned home, they would be treated according to their rank
and religion, as if nothing had changed.
The loss of the city was a massive blow to Christendom; the Pope
called for an immediate counter-attack in the form of a crusade,
but when no European monarch was willing to lead the crusade, the
Pope himself decided to go; his early death eliminated the
possibility of a counter-attack.
With Constantinople beneath his belt, Mehmed II had acquired a
great, rich city albeit one in decline due to years of war. The
Capital allowed the Turks to establish a permanent supply base in
Christian Europe. Further advances into Hungary and the
principalities bordering the two kingdoms would have been
difficult, if not impossible, without the harbors of Constantinople
bringing in supplies and serving as a fortified center from which
to administer the empire and strategy.
Far from being in its heyday, by then, Constantinople was severely
depopulated as a result of the general economic and territorial
decline of the empire following its partial recovery from the
disaster of the Fourth Crusade inflicted on it by the Christian
army two centuries before. Therefore, the city in 1453 was a series
of walled villages separated by vast fields encircled in whole by
the fifth-century Theodosian
. When the Ottoman troops first broke through the
defenses, many of the leading citizens of these little townlets
submitted their surrender to Mehmed's generals. These villages,
specifically along the land walls, were allowed to keep their
citizens and churches and were protected by Mehmed's special
contingents of Janissaries. It was these people who formed what the
Ottomans called a Millet
self-governing community in the multi-national Ottoman Empire of
which Constantinople was to become the capital. Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, although the Greek
Orthodox Church remained intact, and Gennadius Scholarius was appointed
Many Greeks fled the city and found refuge in the Latin West
, bringing with them knowledge and
documents from the Greco-Roman tradition that further propelled the
Renaissance, although the influx of Greek scholars into the West
began much earlier, especially in the Northern Italian city-states
which had started
welcoming scholars in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The
chancellor of Florence Coluccio
began this cultural exchange in 1396 by inviting a
Byzantine Scholar to lecture at the University of Florence
. It was the
Italians' hunger for Latin Classics and a command of the Greek
Language that fueled the Renaissance. Those Greeks who
stayed behind in Constantinople were mostly confined to the
, as they
were called, provided many capable advisers to the Ottoman Sultans,
but were seen as traitors by many Greeks.
(Peloponnesian) fortress of
Mystras, where Constantine's brothers Thomas and Demetrius
constantly in conflict with each other and knowing that Mehmed
would eventually invade them as well, held out until 1460. Long
before the fall of Constantinople, Demetrius had fought for the
throne with Thomas, Constantine, and their other brothers John
and Theodore. Thomas escaped to
Rome when the Ottomans invaded Morea while Demetrius expected to
rule a puppet state, but instead was imprisoned and remained there
for the rest of his life. In Rome, Thomas and his family received
some monetary support from the Pope and other Western rulers as
Byzantine emperor in exile, until 1503. In 1461 the independent
Byzantine state in Trebizond
fell to Mehmed.
Scholars consider the Fall of Constantinople as a key event ending
the Middle Ages
and starting the
because of the end of the
old religious order in Europe and the use of cannon and gunpowder.
The fall of Constantinople and general encroachment of the Turks in
that region also severed the main overland trade link between
Europe and Asia, and as a result more Europeans began to seriously
consider the possibility of reaching Asia by sea
With Byzantium considered the continuation of the Roman Empire, or
the "Second Rome", the fall of Constantinople led competing
factions to lay claim to being the "Third
". Russian claims to Byzantine heritage clashed with those
of the Ottoman empire's own claim. In Mehmed's view, he was the successor to
the Roman Emperor, declaring himself Kayser-i Rum,
literally "Caesar of Rome", that is,
of the Roman Empire, though he was remembered as "the Conqueror",
founder of a political system that survived until 1922 with the establishment of the Republic of
Turkey that has since held Constantinople (renamed
Istanbul) but moved the capital of the Turkish state to Ankara.
conflict in ideology only stimulated warfare between the Russia and
Ottoman Empire, with the 18th and
19th century seeing Russian armies approach slowly closer to
Constantinople. In fact the Russian armies came all the way
to Yesilkoy suburb of Istanbul, which is only 10 miles west of Topkapi
Palace during the Russo-Turkish War
Stefan DuŇ°an, Tsar of Serbia, and
Ivan Alexander, Tsar of Bulgaria both made similar claims, regarding themselves as
legitimate heirs to the Byzantine Empire. Other potential
claimants, such as the Republic of Venice and the Holy Roman
Empire have disintegrated into history. The Vatican is the final remaining claiment.
claim dates back from the establishment of the Papal States which were originally forged as the "Rome-Ravenna"
corridor after Emperor Justinian's conquests.
under Frankish protection, the Papal States remained as they were
throughout the centuries, until the 1870 conquest by Victor
Emanuel. It was not until the subsequent Concordat of Rome in 1929,
that their claim to the Byzantine Empire was revived, a continuous
claim dating back over 1500 years.
In addition to the military and political benefits bestowed upon
the Turks with its capture, it also brought the trade in Eastern
Spices through Muslim intermediaries into a declining period.
Europeans would continue to trade through Constantinople into the
16th century but high prices propelled the search for alternative
sources of supply that did not pass through the intermediaries of
the Ottomans and, to a lesser extent, the Safavids and Mamelukes.
An increasing number of Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch ships began
to attempt to sail to India via the southern tip of Africa. Indeed,
had Columbus not believed that he would reach Asia to negotiate
trade rights by sailing west‚ÄĒthe mission as he presented it to his
patron, the King of Spain‚ÄĒhe would not have found the New
It is widely believed that the city was renamed to "Istanbul" in
the aftermath of the conquest. In actuality, Ottomans used the
Arabic translation of the city, "Kostantiniyye," as can be seen in
numerous Ottoman documents. The name Istanbul
, deriving from a Greek
phrase ("to the City", Greek: eis -tin- polin ) was already spread
among the populace before the conquest. Istanbul would become the
official name of the city in 1930.
Ottoman casualties are unknown; the Venetian surgeon Barbaro
describes the sea around the capital floating with the bodies of
the Turks and Christians "like melons out to canal". Whatever the
Ottoman casualties, the Empire had to recover its strength; to the
East lay the Karamanids, and to the North the Hungarians and
numerous smaller states, such as the Despotate of Morea and the
many Slavic territories in the Balkans contested by Hungary.
There are many legends in Greece surrounding the Fall of
Constantinople. One of them holds that two priests saying divine liturgy
over the crowd disappeared
into the cathedral's walls as the first Turkish soldiers entered.
According to the legend, the priests will appear again on the day
Constantinople returns to Christian hands. Another legend refers to
the Marble King
, Constantine XI, holding that, when the
Ottomans entered the city, an angel rescued the emperor, turned him
into marble and placed him in a cave under the earth near the
Golden Gate, where he waits to be brought to life again (a variant
of the sleeping hero
Western cultural impact
The Christian re-conquest of Constantinople remained a fascinating
and much sought-after event in Western Europe for years to come
after its fall to the House of Osman
Rumours of Constantine XI's survival and subsequent rescue by an
angel led many to hope that the city would one day return to
Christian hands. However, as Western Europe entered the 15th
century, the age of Crusading began to come to an end. Initially,
the fall of the city seemed to cause a stir of crusading zeal in
the West, where, apart from religious sentiments, Renaissance humanism
had for about a
century been fueling an interest in the cultural and intellectual
heritage of classical antiquity
and the role that Byzantium had played in preserving that heritage.
The great humanist Aeneas Silvius
that with the fall of Constantinople "Homer and Plato have died a
second death". While this utterance was surely true for learning in
the fallen city, refugees from Constantinople to Italy brought with
them ancient texts that further inspired humanist investigation of
ancient philosophy and esotericism, especially Platonic and
Neo-Platonic thought. As Pope Pius II
the same Aeneas Silvius declared a crusade in 1459 for the
recapture of Constantinople, but any genuine enthusiasm that
existed was short-lived, and a crusade never came into effect.
songs lamenting the fall of the Eastern church, and the duke of
Burgundy, Philip the Good
to take up arms against the Turks.
With the Protestant
and subsequent counter-reformation
, the recapture of
Constantinople became an ever-distant dream. Even France, once a
fervent participant of the Crusades, became an ally of the
Ottomans. Nonetheless depictions of Christian coalitions taking the
city and of the late Emperor's resurrection by Leo the Wise
persisted. Entertaining such ideas became politically incorrect in
the Western world after the defeat of Greek armies, which tried to
invade Turkey during 1919-1922, right after the defeat of the
in the First World War
. After this Turkish war of independence,
Turkey emerged as a secular constitutional republic in 1923, later
becoming a democratic republic in 1950 and joined NATO along with
Eastern cultural impact
Contrary to popular belief the city was not immediately renamed to
Istanbul, but rather many different names were used by the
Ottomans: such as Kostantiniyye, Istanbul, Isl√Ęmbol, Stamboul.
name was changed to Istanbul by the Turkish Postal Law of 1930.
The fall of the city to Islam seemed to fulfill a prophecy of
from the Hadith
. With the rise of Arab nationalism however and
the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the efforts of Saladin became
more popular in the Middle East than the achievements of Mehmed. In
the Arab world, the achievements of Saladin rather than Mehmed are
Fall of Constantinople in media
' book The Trolley to Yesterday
based upon the fall of Constantinople.
The sacking of Constantinople is mentioned in the opening song of
the Tim Rice
- Roger Crowley, Constantinople: The Last Great Siege,
1453. Faber, 2006. ISBN 0-571-22185-8 (reviewed by Charles
Foster, " The fall of Constantinople and the end of empire".
Contemporary Review, September 22, 2006 ("Some say the
Middle Ages ended then").
- Runciman 1965, p. 60
- Runciman 1965, pp. 83-84
- Runciman 1965, p. 81
- Runciman 1965, p. 85.
- According to Phrantzes, whom Constantine had ordered to make a
census, the Emperor was appalled when the number of native men
capable of bearing arms turned out to be only 4,983. Leonardo di
Chio gave a number of 6,000 Greeks. See Runciman 1965, p. 85.
- D. Nicolle, Constantinople 1453: The end of Byzantium,
- Nicolle 2000, p. 39.
- Nicolle 2000.
- Nicol√≤ Barbaro, Giornale dell'Assedio di
Costantinopoli, 1453. The autograph copy is conserved in the
Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. Barbaro's
diary has been translated into English by John Melville-Jones (New
York:Exposition Press, 1969), part of which is available here.
- Concasty, M.-L., Les ¬ęInformations¬Ľ de Jacques Tedaldi sur
le si√®ge et la prise de Constantinople
- Chronicles of George Sphrantzes; Greek text is
reported in A. Mai, Classicorum auctorum e Vaticanis codicibus
editorum, tome IX, Romae 1837, pp 1‚Äď100
- Epistola reverendissimi patris domini Isidori cardinalis
Ruteni scripta ad reverendissimum dominum Bisarionem episcopum
Tusculanum ac cardinalem Nicenum Bononiaeque legatum (letter
of Cardinal Isidore to Cardinal Johannes Bessarion), dated 6 July
- Leonardo di Chio, Letter to Pope Nicholas V, dated 16 August
1453 (edited in Migne, Patrologia Graeca 159,
- Leonardo di Chio, Letter, 927B: "three hundred
thousand and more".
- Ubertino Pusculo, Constantinopolis, 1464
- Leonardo di Chio, Letter, 930C.
- Nicolle 2000, p. 44.
- Nicolle 2000, p. 40.
- Another expert who was employed by the Ottomans was
Ciriaco dei Pizzicolli, also known as
Ciriaco of Ancona,
traveller and collector of antiquities.
- Runciman 1965, pp. 94-95.
- The following information is taken from Runciman (1965), pp.
- Runciman 1965, pp. 96-97.
- These were the three Genoese ships sent by the Pope, joined by
a large Imperial transport ship which had been sent on a foraging
mission to Sicily previous to the siege and was on its way back to
Constantinople. (Runciman 1965, p. 100)
- Crowley, Roger. 1453: the holy war for Constantinople and
the clash of Islam and the West. New York: Hyperion, 2005. p
168-171 ISBN 1-4013-0850-3
- Runciman 1965, pp. 126-128, 169-170.
- It is possible that all these phenomena were local effects of
the cataclysmic Kuwae
volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean. The "fire" seen may have
been an optical illusion due to the reflection of intensely red
twilight glow by clouds of volcanic ash high in the atmosphere.
Source at NASA
- Vasiliev 1952, pp. 651-652
- Sources hostile towards the Genoese (such as the Venetian
Nicol√≤ Barbaro), however, report that Giustiniani was only lightly
wounded or not wounded at all, but, overwhelmed by fear, simulated
the wound to abandon the battlefield, determining the fall of the
city. These charges of cowardice and treason were so widespread
that the Republic of Genoa had to deny them by
sending diplomatic letters to the Chancelleries of England, France,
the Duchy of Burgundy and others. See C. Desimoni, Adamo di
Montaldo, in Atti della Societ√† Ligure di Storia Patria, X,
1874, pp. 296-7.
- There was no question of bribery or deceit by the Ottomans; the
gate had simply been overlooked, possibly because rubble from a
cannon attack had obscured or blocked the door.
- Barbaro added the description of the emperor's heroic last
moments to his diary based on information he received afterwards.
According to some Ottoman sources Constantine was killed in an
accidental encounter with Turkish marines a little further to the
south, presumably while making his way to the Sea of Marmara in
order to escape by sea. See Nicolle (2000).
- , "...the rape and pillage had already begun... ...by noon the
streets were running with blood"
- ..."the conquering sultan would quickly turn his attention to
the more difficult task of rebuilding, repopulating and
revitalizing the city..."
- The Siege of Constantinople (1453), according to
- "In fact ordinary people were treated better by their Ottoman
Conquerors than their ancestors had been by Crusaders back in 1204;
only about 4,000 Greeks died in the siege." ... "Mehmet also
ordered all looting to stop and sent his troops back outside the
walls." In 1453, Constantinople contained approximately 50,000
people when the Ottoman Turks captured the city.
- The Fall of Constantinople, 1453
- George Sphrantzes. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A
Chronicle by George Sphrantzes 1401-1477. Translated by Marios
Philippides. University of Massachusetts Press, 1980. ISBN
- Kritovoulos (or Kritoboulos). History
of Mehmed the Conqueror. Translated by Charles T. Riggs.
Greenwood Press Reprint, 1970. ISBN 9780837131191.
- The Fall of Constantinople 1453 - Steven Runciman
- Norwich, John. Byzantium: The Decline and Fall
Penguin: London, 1995. 446.
- Davis, Ralph. The Rise of the Atlantic Economies
Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1973. 9-10.
- Robinson, Richard D. (1965). The First Turkish Republic: A Case
Study in National Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University
- Mortimer Chambers, Barbara Hanawalt, Theodore Rab, Isser
Woloch, Raymon Grew: "The Western Experience" 2003 McGraw-Hill
- The Marble King (in Greek)
- Odysseas Elytis's poem on Constantine XI
- Room, Adrian, (1993), Place Name changes 1900-1991,
(Metuchen, N.J., & London:The Scarecrow Press, Inc.), ISBN
0-8108-2600-3 pp. 46, 86.
- "Constantinople will definitely be conquered one day. What a
nice commandment is the commandment that conquers it, what nice
soldiers is the soldiers that conquers it."(Hadith of Prophet Muhammad)(source: Ahmet b. Hanbal, Musned IV,
- Franz Babinger: Mehmed the
Conqueror and His Time (1992) Princeton University Press ISBN
- The Siege of Constantinople (1453), according
to the eyewitness Nicolo Barbaro
- Richard A. Fletcher: The Cross and the
Crescent (2005) Penguin Group ISBN 0-14-303481-2
- Jonathan Harris, Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium
(2007) Hambledon/Continuum. ISBN 978 1847251794
- Smith, Michael Llewellyn, "The Fall of Constantinople", in
History Makers magazine No. 5 (London, Marshall Cavendish,
Sidgwick & Jackson, 1969) p. 192
- Andrew Wheatcroft: The Infidels: The Conflict Between
Christendom and Islam, 638‚Äď2002 (2003) Viking Publishing ISBN
- Justin Wintle: The Rough Guide
History of Islam (2003) Rough Guides ISBN 1-84353-018-X