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The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capitalmarker of the Byzantine Empire which occurred after a siege laid by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Sultan Mehmed II. The siege lasted from Thursday, 5 April, 1453 until Tuesday, 29 May, 1453 (according to the Julian Calendar), when the city fell to the Ottomans. Constantinople was defended by the army of Emperor Constantine XI. The event marked the end of the political independence of the millennium-old Byzantine Empire, which was by then already fragmented into several Greek monarchies.

Following his accession to the Ottoman throne, Mehmed had been applying pressure on Constantinople and the Byzantines by building forts along the Dardanellesmarker. 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 wallsmarker 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 Hornmarker thus allowing four Christian ships to enter the city. Mehmed had his ships rolled into the Golden Horn on greased logs and a Byzantine effort to destroy the ships with fire ships 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 Venetianmarker 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 Blachernaemarker section of walls. The defenders pushed back the Anatolians and managed to hold out against the Sultan's elite Janissaries. During the fighting, the Genoese commander, Giovanni Giustiniani was fatally 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 and the Empire of Trebizond. Many Greeks fled the city and migrated to other parts of Europe, in particular Italymarker. This 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 Middle Ages, 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 Fourth Crusade 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, Epirus and Trebizond. 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 Peloponnesemarker (centered on the fortress of Mystrasmarker). 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 Seamarker.


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 Bosporusmarker called Anadolu HisarńĪmarker, 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 Genoesemarker colonies on the Black Seamarker coast from reaching the city. This castle was called Rumeli HisarńĪmarker; Rumeli and Anadolumarker being the names of European and Asian portions of the Ottoman Empire, respectively. The new fortress is also known as Bońüazkesen which has a dual meaning in Turkish; strait-blocker or throat-cutter, emphasizing its strategic position. The Greek name of the fortress, Laimokopia, 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. Emperor John VIII Palaeologus had attempted to negotiate Union with Pope Eugene IV, and the Council held in 1439 resulted in the proclamation, in Florencemarker, of a Bull of Union. In the 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 between 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 and 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. Although 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 Francemarker and Englandmarker being weakened from the Hundred Years' War, Spainmarker being in the final part of the Reconquista, the internecine fighting in the German Principalities, and Hungarymarker and Polandmarker's defeat at the Battle of Varnamarker 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 Hornmarker: 7 km; sea walls along the Sea of Marmaramarker: 7.5 km), probably the strongest set of fortified walls in existence at the time. The walls had recently been repaired (under John VIII) 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 Genoamarker, 5 from Venicemarker, 3 from Venetian Cretemarker, 1 from Anconamarker, 1 from Aragonmarker, 1 from Francemarker, and about 10 Byzantine. 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 ńźurańĎ Brankovińá 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 Constantinoplemarker. 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 Mytilenemarker Leonardo di Chio: 300,000). Mehmed also 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 horse-transports.

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

Ottoman dispositions

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 bombard

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 Babylonmarker itself'. Given abundant funds and materials, the Hungarian engineer built the gun within three months at Adrianoplemarker, from which it was dragged by sixty oxen to Constantinoplemarker. 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 Iskander). 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 Walls, 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 Anatoliamarker 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 Pasha were employed north of the Golden Horn. Communication was maintained by a road that had been constructed over the marshy head of the Horn.

Byzantine dispositions

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 Mesoteichion, 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 Charisian Gate (Myriandrion); later during the siege, he was shifted to the Mesoteichion to join Constantine, leaving the Myriandrion to the charge of the Bocchiardi brothers. Minotto and his Venetians were stationed in the Blachernaemarker 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 Pegae Gate 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. Péré Julia was stationed at the Great Palace with Genoese troops; Cardinal Isidore of Kiev guarded the tip of the peninsula near the boom. The sea walls at the southern shore of the Golden Hornmarker 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 Apostlesmarker, under the command of Lucas Notaras and Nicephorus Palaeologus, respectively. 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' Islandsmarker in the Sea of Marmara were taken by Admiral Baltoghlu's fleet.

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 Hornmarker 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 Galatamarker on the north side of the Golden Horn, and rolled his ships across on 22 April. This seriously threatened the flow of supplies from Genovesemarker ships from the - nominally neutral - colony of Peramarker and 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 Serbiansmarker sent from Novo Brdo by the Serbian Despot. They were placed under the command of Zaganos Pasha. However, the Byzantines employed an engineer named Johannes Grant (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 Sophiamarker, and from the city walls lights were seen in the countryside to the West, far behind the Turkish camp. The 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 city.

Final assault

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 land-hauled fleet.

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 azab (auxiliaries), were poorly trained and equipped, and were meant only to kill as many defenders as possible. The second assault, consisting largely of Anatoliansmarker, focused on a section of the Blachernaemarker 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 Chiosmarker, 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 while. At this point, some historians suggest that the Kerkoporta gate in the Blachernaemarker 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 remains unknown.

After the 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 Apostlesmarker, which Mehmed II wanted to provide a seat for his newly appointed patriarch which would help him better control his Christian subjects. 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, the 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 slaugh­ter 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 Sphrantzes 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 conquest:

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 walls. 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, a self-governing community in the multi-national Ottoman Empire of which Constantinople was to become the capital. Hagia Sophiamarker was converted into a mosque, although the Greek Orthodox Churchmarker remained intact, and Gennadius Scholarius was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople.

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 Salutati 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 Phanarmarker and Galatamarker districts. The Phanariots, as they were called, provided many capable advisers to the Ottoman Sultans, but were seen as traitors by many Greeks.

The Morean (Peloponnesian) fortress of Mystras, where Constantine's brothers Thomas and Demetrius ruled, 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 Renaissance 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.

Third Rome

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 Rome". 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 Turkeymarker that has since held Constantinople (renamed Istanbul) but moved the capital of the Turkish state to Ankaramarker. Such conflict in ideology only stimulated warfare between the Russiamarker 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 Yesilkoymarker suburb of Istanbulmarker, which is only 10 miles west of Topkapi Palacemarker during the Russo-Turkish War .

Stefan DuŇ°an, Tsar of Serbiamarker, and Ivan Alexander, Tsar of Bulgariamarker both made similar claims, regarding themselves as legitimate heirs to the Byzantine Empire. Other potential claimants, such as the Republic of Venicemarker and the Holy Roman Empire have disintegrated into history. The Vaticanmarker is the final remaining claiment. Their claim dates back from the establishment of the Papal Statesmarker which were originally forged as the "Rome-Ravenna" corridor after Emperor Justinian's conquests. Later placed 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 World.


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

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.

Cultural references

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 legend)..

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 lamented 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. Guillaume Dufay composed several songs lamenting the fall of the Eastern church, and the duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, avowed to take up arms against the Turks. With the Protestant Reformation 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 Ottoman Empire 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 NATOmarker along with Greecemarker in 1952.

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. Later the name was changed to Istanbulmarker by the Turkish Postal Law of 1930.

The fall of the city to Islam seemed to fulfill a prophecy of Muhammad 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 remembered.

Fall of Constantinople in media

John Bellairs' book The Trolley to Yesterday is based upon the fall of Constantinople.

The sacking of Constantinople is mentioned in the opening song of the Tim Rice musical, CHESS.

See also


  1. 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").
  2. Runciman 1965, p. 60
  3. Runciman 1965, pp. 83-84
  4. Runciman 1965, p. 81
  5. Runciman 1965, p. 85.
  6. 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.
  7. D. Nicolle, Constantinople 1453: The end of Byzantium, 32
  8. Nicolle 2000, p. 39.
  9. Nicolle 2000.
  10. Nicolò 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.
  11. Concasty, M.-L., Les ¬ęInformations¬Ľ de Jacques Tedaldi sur le si√®ge et la prise de Constantinople
  12. Chronicles of George Sphrantzes; Greek text is reported in A. Mai, Classicorum auctorum e Vaticanis codicibus editorum, tome IX, Romae 1837, pp 1‚Äď100
  13. 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 1453
  14. Leonardo di Chio, Letter to Pope Nicholas V, dated 16 August 1453 (edited in Migne, Patrologia Graeca 159, 923A‚Äď944B).
  15. Leonardo di Chio, Letter, 927B: "three hundred thousand and more".
  16. Ubertino Pusculo, Constantinopolis, 1464
  17. Leonardo di Chio, Letter, 930C.
  18. Nicolle 2000, p. 44.
  19. Nicolle 2000, p. 40.
  20. Another expert who was employed by the Ottomans was Ciriaco dei Pizzicolli, also known as Ciriaco of Ancona, traveller and collector of antiquities.
  21. Runciman 1965, pp. 94-95.
  22. The following information is taken from Runciman (1965), pp. 92-94.
  23. Runciman 1965, pp. 96-97.
  24. 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)
  25. 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
  26. Runciman 1965, pp. 126-128, 169-170.
  27. 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
  28. Vasiliev 1952, pp. 651-652
  29. Sources hostile towards the Genoese (such as the Venetian Nicolò 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 Società Ligure di Storia Patria, X, 1874, pp. 296-7.
  30. 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.
  31. 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).
  32. , "...the rape and pillage had already begun... noon the streets were running with blood"
  33. ..."the conquering sultan would quickly turn his attention to the more difficult task of rebuilding, repopulating and revitalizing the city..."
  34. The Siege of Constantinople (1453), according to Nicolo Barbaro
  35. "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.
  36. The Fall of Constantinople, 1453
  37. 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 9780870232909.
  38. Kritovoulos (or Kritoboulos). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. Translated by Charles T. Riggs. Greenwood Press Reprint, 1970. ISBN 9780837131191.
  39. The Fall of Constantinople 1453 - Steven Runciman
  40. Norwich, John. Byzantium: The Decline and Fall Penguin: London, 1995. 446.
  41. Davis, Ralph. The Rise of the Atlantic Economies Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1973. 9-10.
  42. Robinson, Richard D. (1965). The First Turkish Republic: A Case Study in National Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  43. Mortimer Chambers, Barbara Hanawalt, Theodore Rab, Isser Woloch, Raymon Grew: "The Western Experience" 2003 McGraw-Hill
  44. The Marble King (in Greek)
  45. Odysseas Elytis's poem on Constantine XI Palaeologos
  46. Room, Adrian, (1993), Place Name changes 1900-1991, (Metuchen, N.J., & London:The Scarecrow Press, Inc.), ISBN 0-8108-2600-3 pp. 46, 86.
  48. "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, 225.)]


  • Franz Babinger: Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time (1992) Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-01078-1
  • 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 0-670-86942-2
  • Justin Wintle: The Rough Guide History of Islam (2003) Rough Guides ISBN 1-84353-018-X

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