Posted: March 24th, 2023

The Fall of Constantinople, 1453

The City of Constantinople

Constantinople was founded in 658 B.C. by a Greek colony from Megara.[1] Before that time, the place was under the Thracian village of Lygos, and their chief was Byzas. The city was also known as Byzantine. Despite its perfect location, the colony did not prosper because of the destruction suffered during the Medic wars. Around 330 A.D., the city was made the new imperial capital because of its strategic position. The city connected Asia and Europe and was more guarded than Rome. It was regarded as a Christian city to reflect the emperor’s religious preferences. This research paper will offer a persuasive discussion of the history of the city, the war between the Ottomans and Byzantines,s and the events leading to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

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The city of Constantinople had seven hills, which were divided into fourteen districts. Despite the fall of the Roman Emperor in A.D. 476, the city remained at the center of imperial power for many centuries. In fact, historians refer to this medieval incarnation as Byzantine. Indeed, the inhabitants of this city were commonly known as the Greeks by Italians and Franks. However, the dwellers insisted that they were Romans and considered their emperor as a successor to Marcus Aurelius, Constantine, and Augustus.[2]

The city had impervious walls, which guarded it against attacks. For instance, after the rise of Islam, much of the Byzantine emperor’s territory, including North Africa and the Middle East, was lost. Still, the city of Constantine could not be broken by Muslim armies. France and Western Europe were well-civilized during the Islamic attack, but the loss of the Byzantine emperor’s territory demonstrated the creation of Islamic Europe.

During the fourth crusade in 1204, Constantinople was under Catholic knights. They had practiced orthodox Christianity for nearly 60 years before the emperor recaptured the city. In the mid-14th century, almost half of the city’s population died of the Black Death, affecting the city’s power of war. By the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks had taken over virtually all the present-day Turkey. In fact, after this attack, the Byzantine Empire was destroyed with just a few islands and scattered territories outside the city of Constantinople.

How the War Started

The battle was part of the Ottoman-Byzantine Wars between 1265 and 1453. Ottomans were Turks, an ethnic group that originated from central Asia. They spent much of their time as nomads. Before the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottomans had migrated towards Northern Iraq, Eastern Anatolia (the modern landmass of turkey), and Northern Iran. Eventually, the Ottomans were organized in groups under a single Turkish dynasty, a troop that conquered Eastern Anatolia. On the other hand, Byzantines were Romans under the Roman Empire. The western part of the Roman Empire collapsed in 476, but the Eastern part remained strong for another millennium.[3] They observed the Greek and Roman culture. They made much money since they were the focal point of Asia, Africa, and European trade. Indeed, the name Byzantine was adopted from the original name of Constantinople, Byzantium.

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During the start of the War, the Ottomans were led by Mehmet II, Suleiman Baltoghulu, and Zaganous Pasha. They had around 90-126 ships and more than 100 000 men ready to fight.[4] On the other hand, Byzantines were commanded by Constantine XI, Giovanni Giustiniani, and Loukas Notaras. In addition, they had 26 ships and approximately 12,000 men to fight in the war. Evidently, the Ottomans were well prepared with more ships and had more men than the Byzantines.

Ottoman-Byzantine Armies and Defenses

In the mid of the 15th century, the Ottoman-Byzantine scales were imbalanced. The once powerful and wealthy Byzantine was in continuous decline. In fact, over the past centuries, they were easily conjured by Christian armies during the fourth crusade. Byzantines were also dealing with the problem of political instability, and most of their population was destroyed by the infamous Black Plague. However, the only thing they had the upper hand on was the presence of the formidable system of defense that surrounded their city.[5]

Notably, the city was surrounded by layered systems of great walls, and all three sides had water fortifications. On the other hand, the Ottomans did not have a powerful history in terms of past wars. However, Mehmet II as their leader, unified them and consolidated their power after dealing with the Mongol invasion and their political infighting.[6] In fact, by the time of Constantinople’s siege, the Ottomans had nearly conquered all the Anatolia and a big part of the Balkans in the northern region.

The Preparations of the Attack

In 1451, Mehmed II became the Ottoman sultan. He was 19 years old, and it is believed that the Renaissance made him a cruel monster. The man was brave, highly impulsive, a master of contradiction, tyrannical, and acted in sudden kindness. In addition, he was unpredictable, moody, and bisexual and avoided close relationships. He would never forgive when insulted, but later he was adored because of his pious foundation. After becoming the sultan, he began a new program for his navy and eventually planned how to conquer Constantinople.

Initially, Mehmed II could not disconnect the city from the Black sea and other potential aids from Genoese colonies. On the other hand, Constantine was concerned about the Ottoman’s threat and appealed for aid from Pope Nicholas V. However, despite the continued animosity between the Roman churches and the Orthodox, Nicholas agreed to assist and pleaded for help from the west. However, no western nation was in a position to assist as many of those nations were engaged in other conflicts and could not spare money or men to aid Constantinople.[7]

No assistance was forthcoming, only a few independent soldiers. Among those who came were professional soldiers under Giovanni Giustniani’s command. Constantine fortified his defense by ensuring that Theodosia and northern Blachernae district walls were strengthened through the repair. In addition, Constantine directed that a strong chain be stretched along the harbor to prevent Ottoman ships from entering the Golden Horn walls.

Constantine had fewer men and, therefore, directed that many of the troops should defend the Theodosian walls. Indeed, he did not have enough troops to guard the entire city. On the contrary, Mehmed II approached the city with a huge number of troops, approximately 80,000 to 120,000 men.[8] Many men in the Sea of Marmara also supported him. Still, Mehmed II possessed huge cannons and several guns made by the founder Orban. The entire army arrived outside of Constantinople on April 1, 1453. They camped till the next day. Mehmed II arrived the next day with other close allies and made preparations for the siege.

The Siege Attempt

In April and May, actions were launched from the Byzantines and Ottoman sides. Each side wanted to get an advantage over the other. The Ottomans attacked the walls while the Byzantines blocked their actions. In fact, both Ottoman and Byzantines exchanged proposals, but no agreement was reached since both sides were determined on their course. The Ottomans were determined to conquer the city during the Byzantine unleashed resistance.[9]

The Ottoman’s first step was to block the Constantinople port and then progress toward the peninsula. This would lead them to a place where Constantinople sat, which was referred to as the Golden horn. The place was wealthy because all the cash collected from the sea trade by the Byzantine Empire was kept there. In addition, the place was well-guarded, and a system of chains stretching across the harbor was evident. Hence, no ship could pass the blockage, leave alone go behold those chains. Mehmed II and his forces found the place impregnable; therefore, they decided to drag the lighter ships over the land and place them behold the harbor chains. They rolled several ships on greased logs across Galata two days later and moved them around the Genoese colony.[10]

Afterward, the ships were refloated towards the Golden Horn, a distance away from the chains. Constantine tried to eliminate the threat, and he directed the attack on the Ottomans fleet with fire ships. However, they were well prepared and forewarned and easily defeated the attempt. Eventually, Constantine had to shift all his men toward the Golden Horn walls. As a result, the defense around the landward was weakened, and the Ottomans could now get a chance to proceed toward the Golden Horn.

Previously, the assault against the walls of Theodosian had failed. Mehmed II ordered his troops to start digging tunnels beneath the Byzantine defenses. Johannes Grant, a Byzantine engineer, led the counter-operation. He unleashed a countermining effort that intercepted the Ottoman first mine on May 18. Later, two officers from Ottoman were captured and tortured to reveal where the remaining mines were located. Indeed, subsequent mines were destroyed on May 25.[11]

The Final Assault

During the first week of month of May the troops from Ottoman’s side took their positions in front of Constantinople city. The sultan’s tent was well installed in the northern region of the civil Gate near Lycus River facing the St Romanus, which was the Military Gate. He ordered the installation of the big cannon in the same place. They opened a protective trench in front of the Ottoman units to protect the troop. The earth from the trench was accumulated to support a palisade erected at the top.

In the same month, more Ottoman fleets from Gallipoli joined the troops. In addition, the fleet comprises more than 200 ships of various displacements and sizes. The way from the sea of the Byzantine capital was occupied, and the sultan distributed his troops the best way he could. However, it was not possible to cover the entire wall of Constantinople with the available troops since the entire circumference was more than fifteen miles long.[12] Nevertheless, it was evident that the attack would be delivered along the land walls, which were around four miles long.

After the Byzantines had discovered the presence of Ottoman troops, they took a position in the St Romanus Gate, where they expected heavy damage to occur. In fact, Venetian Bailo, the commander of the Constantinople Venetian community, was charged with defending the Blanchernae region where the Imperial Palace was positioned. On the other hand, Minotto Girolamo was to face the European troops of Pasha Karadja. Similarly, Zaganous Pash’s troops stood behind the Golden Horn, and Anatolian troops defended the southern section, which guarded the land walls. The entrance of the port was protected by a Venetian commander, where ten ships were positioned behind the chain.

As was common with Islamic tradition, Sultan demanded the city’s surrender before he could begin the attack. He promised to respect their property and spare the lives of the city dwellers. However, the Emperor rejected Mehmed’s demand in a proud and dignified way. Almost immediately, the first assault started. Thousands of troops attacked the stockade and started burning down the walls.[13] The continuous attack soon brought down some sections of the walls, which were near the Gate of Charisius in the northern Emperor. During the night after the attack, everyone who was available went to repair the damaged walls.

Henceforth, Ottoman troops continued with the attack, particularly in front of the weaker sections of the wall that had been bombarded. During this time, Sultan was convinced that for the city to remain besieged, the naval arm had to be neutralized. He formulated a plan to bring part of his fleet toward the Golden Horn.[14] The Byzantines held a crisis meeting and resolved that the enemy’s boat should be burned. However, this plan failed miserably after a man from Pera betrayed them.

Ottoman unleashed a heavy attack on the Christian ships, destroying them and capturing more than forty sailors who were later executed. On the other side of the land, the bombardment continued collapsing more walls. The preparation for the big assault was to take place on May 29.[15] Ultimately, Sultan assured the troops that success was imminent and promised that after the assault, he would distribute the money and treasures found in the city equally. In fact, according to the traditions, the troops would be allowed to loot the city for three days. On the other hand, the defenders were exhausted and could not withstand the final assault thoroughly executed towards the land walls and in the port area.

On 29th May, Mehmed II sent his troops to capture and kill the defenders. They succeeded in breaking through towards the Giustiniani forces. The defenders resisted the attack until Giustiniani was badly injured. They took their commander back for assistance, an act that marked the success of the Ottomans. Constantine led the troops defending the Lycus Valley walls in the southern region. He was under heavy pressure and eventually gave in after the Ottomans could enter the city through the Kerkoporta gate left open. The fall of Constantine took place after the enemy rushed through the city, making him unable to hold the walls. Eventually, the Ottomans could open other gates, and they fully took control of the city. Consequently, the famous ‘Fall of Constantinople’ took place. As Mehmed had promised, he allowed the troops to loot the city for three days and assigned the men to defend the key buildings.[16]

The Aftermath

The loss after the siege cannot be quantified. However, it is believed that the Ottomans lost close to 4,000 men. In fact, the city’s loss was a distressing blow to Christendom.  The immediate call by Pope Nicholas to redeem the city did not receive any concern from the Western monarchy. Notably, the fall of Constantinople marked the birth of the Renaissance and the end of the Middle age. By and large, the Greek scholars who fled the city took their rare manuscript and priceless knowledge to the West. Hence, their knowledge was embraced in the region, which enabled Western Civilization to take place gradually. Significantly, the fall of Constantinople necessitated the need to seek alternative sea routes after the Asian-European trade links were cut.[17]

In conclusion, the fall of Constantinople marked the beginning of Islamic rule in Europe. Mehmed II emerged as a great ruler despite his age and the level of experience he had in leadership. The Islamic religion developed a base in Europe, where Christianity was prevalent. In fact, Islamic states continue to celebrate this day to commemorate their success and the spread of their religion in Europe.

 

Works Cited

Nicolle, David, John F. Haldon, and Stephen R. Turnbull. The Fall of Constantinople: The

Ottoman Conquest of Byzantium. Oxford: Osprey, 2007. Print

Philippides, Marios, and Walter K. Hanak. The Siege and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453:

Historiography, Topography, and Military Studies. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Pub. Co, 2011. Print

Runciman, Steven. The Fall of Constantinople 1453. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 2012. Print.

Vailhé, Siméon. “Constantinople.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert

Appleton Company, 1908. 12 Oct. 2014. 

<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm>.

[1] Vailhé, Siméon. “Constantinople.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. (12 Oct. 2014), 1  <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm>.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Steven, Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 176.

[4] Vailhé, Siméon. “Constantinople.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. (12 Oct. 2014), 1.  <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm>.

[5] Ibid., 1.

[6] David, Nicolle, John F. Haldon, and Stephen R. Turnbull. The Fall of Constantinople: The Ottoman Conquest of Byzantium. (Oxford: Osprey, 2007), 45.

[7] Marios, Philippides, and Walter K. Hanak. The Siege and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453: Historiography, Topography, and Military Studies. (Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Pub. Co, 2011), 85.

[8] Ibid., 87.

[9] Vailhé, Siméon. “Constantinople.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. (12 Oct. 2014), 1.  <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm>.

[10] Steven, Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 176.

[11] Vailhé, Siméon. “Constantinople.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. (12 Oct. 2014), 1.  <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm>.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Marios, Philippides, and Walter K. Hanak. The Siege and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453: Historiography, Topography, and Military Studies. (Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Pub. Co, 2011), 85.

[14] Ibid., 86.

[15] Marios, Philippides, and Walter K. Hanak. The Siege and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453: Historiography, Topography, and Military Studies. (Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Pub. Co, 2011), 85

[16] Vailhé, Siméon. “Constantinople.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. (12 Oct. 2014), 1.  <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm>.

[17] Vailhé, Siméon. “Constantinople.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. (12 Oct. 2014), 1. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm>.

 

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