The fall of Constantinople – HeritageDaily

The fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Byzantine Empire (and indeed the end of the Roman Empire) when the city was captured by the forces of the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD.

Constantinople was the capital of the Roman / Byzantine Empire, founded in 330 AD by Emperor Constantine the Great in the Greek city of Byzantion (better known as later Byzantium) between the Golden Horn and the sea of Marmara in the Bosphorus Strait.

Constantine named the city Nova Roma, which means “New Rome”, becoming the only capital of the Roman Empire after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The city was famous for its architectural masterpieces, such as Hagia Sophia, the Cathedral of the Eastern Orthodox Church (which served as the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), the Imperial Palace, the Hippodrome and its lavish aristocratic palaces.

Constantinople was protected by an extensive system of defensive land walls, including the famous 5th century AD Theodosian double line, which defended the city from the sieges of the Avar-Sassanian coalition, Arabs, Russians and Bulgarians, among others. .

With the advent of the Ottoman Empire in 1299 AD, the Byzantine Empire began to lose territories to the Turks, for whom the conquest of Constantinople became a crucial objective. The city was already in decline after the plundering by the Crusaders during the Fourth Crusade and the devastation by the Black Death that killed almost half of the population.

By AD 1450, Byzantine territory had shrunk to a few kilometers outside the city gates, leaving the once powerful Empire that dominated the Mediterranean a mere city-state (excluding the emergence of Empire of Tribizond).

When Mehmed II succeeded Sultan Murad II in 1451 AD, he devoted himself to strengthening the Ottoman forces in preparation for the attack on Constantinople. On the European shores of the Bosphorus, he built the fortress of Rumelihisarı, which, together with the fortress of Anadolu Hisarı across the strait, gave the Ottomans complete control of the sea traffic that strangled the city.

Realizing Mehmed’s intentions, Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI sought support from the west by proposing a union between the Eastern and Western churches. Although an agreement was made by the Byzantine imperial court, the influence of Pope Nicholas V could not influence Western kings and princes to send their forces.

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The siege of Constantinople began on April 6, 1453. The Byzantine forces defending the city totaled approximately 7,000 men (with approximately 50,000 civilians and refugees seeking refuge behind the city walls), who opposed a force of 50,000. to 80,000 Ottoman soldiers.

Attempts to attack the city by sea were thwarted by a giant chain that blocked the entrance to the Golden Horn. Mehmed ordered the construction of a greased log road and bypassed the chain by dragging his ships overland, forcing the Byzantines to reduce their garrisons on the earth wall to protect the city dikes.

Multiple ground assaults on the walls of Theodosius were repelled with great Ottoman losses, leading Mehmed to propose the lifting of the siege if the Byzantines surrendered the city. Mehmed promised that he would allow the emperor and the townspeople to leave with their possessions, furthermore, he would recognize the emperor as governor of the Peloponnese.

Constantine replied by saying: “As for ceding the city to you, it is not for me to decide nor for any of its citizens; because we have all made a mutual decision to die of our own free will, with no regard for our lives.

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Image Credit: Lestertair – Shutterstock

The final assault began on May 26 of the same year with successive waves of soldiers overwhelming the defenders at several points along the city walls.

Leonardo of Chios witnessed the atrocities that followed: “All valuables and other loot were taken to their camp, and up to sixty thousand Christians were captured. Crosses that had been placed on the roofs or walls of churches were torn down and trampled on. Women have been raped, virgins deflowered and young people forced to participate in shameful obscenities. The nuns left behind, even those who clearly were, were dishonored by ignoble debauchery ”.

The loss of Constantinople was seen as a crippling blow to Christendom, exposing the West to an enemy that could rival the armies of Europe and lead to centuries of conflict. Many Greeks fled the city and found refuge in the Latin West, bringing with them knowledge and documents from the Greco-Roman tradition to Italy and other regions that helped propel the Renaissance.

Mehmed declared himself Kayser-i Rum, literally “Caesar of Rome”, ie of the Roman Empire, although he is remembered as the “Conqueror”. He founded a political system that survived until 1922 with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

Header Image Credit: Lestertair – Shutterstock