#2 [url]

Apr 30 08 5:55 AM

Fall of Constantinople

The Siege of Constantinople (painted 1499).
Date April 2–May 29, 1453
Location Constantinople (present-day Istanbul)
Result Decisive Ottoman victory,[1] end of the Byzantine Empire.
Flag of Byzantine Empire Byzantine Empire Ottoman flag Ottoman Sultanate
Constantine XI †,
Loukas Notaras,
Giovanni Giustiniani †[2] Mehmed II,
Zağanos Pasha
26 ships[4] 80,000[5]-200,000[2][6]
126 ships[7]
Casualties and losses
4,000 dead[8]
10,000 civilian dead[9][10] unknown
v • d • e
Byzantine-Ottoman wars
Bapheus- 1303 - Brusa - Pelekanon - Nicaea - Nicomedia - 1st Gallipoli - Adrianople - 2nd Gallipoli - Philladelphia - 1st Constantinople - Thessalonika - 2nd Constantinople
For earlier attacks on Constantinople, see Sieges of Constantinople.

The Fall of Constantinople refers to the capture of the Byzantine Empire's capital by the Ottoman Empire on Tuesday, May 29, 1453 (Julian Calendar). 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.[11] Most importantly, the fall of Constantinople accelerated the scholarly exodus of Byzantine Greeks which caused the influx of Classical Greek Studies into the European Renaissance.[12] In addition, it played a crucial role in Ottoman political stability and its subsequent expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. The date of the event is one of the frequently proposed events marking the end of the Middle Ages as a historical period.

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#4 [url]

Apr 30 08 5:57 AM

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.[13] 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 threats from the Latins, the Serbians, the Bulgarians and most importantly, the Ottoman Turks.[14][15] [16] [17] In 1453 the empire consisted of little more than the 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.

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#6 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:00 AM

The Byzantine Empire in the first half of the 15th century. Thessaloniki was captured by the Ottomans in 1430. A few islands in the Aegean and the Propontis remained under Byzantine rule until 1453 (not shown on the map)


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#7 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:00 AM

The Byzantine Empire in the first half of the 15th century. Thessaloniki was captured by the Ottomans in 1430. A few islands in the Aegean and the Propontis remained under Byzantine rule until 1453 (not shown on the map)
The Byzantine Empire in the first half of the 15th century. Thessaloniki was captured by the Ottomans in 1430. A few islands in the Aegean and the Propontis remained under Byzantine rule until 1453 (not shown on the map)

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.[18] This belief was reinforced by Mehmed's friendly assurances to envoys that were sent to him at the assumption of his reign.[19] His promise to respect Byzantine territorial integrity, however, soon proved false. 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 Hisarı, now built a second fortress outside the walls of Constantinople on the European side, which would increase Turkish influence on the straits.[19] 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 called Rumeli Hisarı; Rumeli and Anadolu being the names of European and Asian portions of the Ottoman Empire, respectively. The new fortress is also known as Boğazkesen 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.

Constantine 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 re-integrate 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 Florence, 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.

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#9 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:02 AM

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.[19] Although he was eager to help, Pope Nicholas V did not have the influence the Byzantines thought he had over the Western Kings and Princes, 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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[19]

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#10 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:02 AM


The army defending Constantinople was small; it totalled about 7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreigners.[23] 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 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.[24] In addition, the defenders were relatively well-equipped. The defenders also had a fleet of 26 ships: 5 from Genoa, 5 from Venice, 3 from Venetian Crete, 1 from Ancona, 1 from Spain, 1 from France, and about 10 Byzantine.[25] The Ottomans, on the other hand, had a larger force. It was thought to number around 100,000 men, including 20,000 Janissaries; recent estimates span between 80,000 soldiers and 5,000 Janissaries,[26] and 150,000 soldiers, including mounted troops and 6,000-10,000 Janissaries.[2] Contemporary witnesses of the siege, who tend to exaggerate the military power of the Sultan, provide higher numbers[2] (Nicolò Barbaro: 160,000;[27] the Florentine merchant Jacopo Tedaldi[28] and the Great Logothete George Sphrantzes:[29] 200,000; the Cardinal Isidore of Kiev[30] and the Archbishop of Mytilene Leonardo di Chio:[31] 300,000).[32] Mehmed also built a fleet to besiege the city from the sea (partially manned by Greek sailors from Gallipoli[33]). Contemporary estimates of the strength of the Ottoman fleet span between about 100 ships (Tedaldi[28]), 145 (Barbaro[27]), 160 (Ubertino Pusculo[34]), 200-250 (Isidore of Kiev,[30] Leonardo di Chio[35]) to 430 (Sphrantzes[29]). 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.[36]

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.[37]

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#11 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:02 AM

Equipment and strategies

Further information: Great Turkish Bombard

Prior to the siege of Constantinople it was known that the Ottomans had the ability to cast medium-sized cannon, but the range of some pieces they were able to put to field far surpassed the defenders' expectations. 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)[38]. The master founder initially tried to sell his services to the Byzantines, who were unable to secure the funds needed to hire him. He then offered his skills to the sultan. He guaranteed Mehmed that he could cast cannons powerful enough to break down the "walls of Babylon", implying that the greatest fortifications could not be spared.[38] Consequently every resource was placed at his fingertips. In a move of unprecedented technicality, working in a makeshift foundry, Orban pushed the limits of his art and cast what was probably the largest contemporary gun yet made — 27 feet long and large enough for a full grown man to crawl into. Orban's cannon could fire a 1200 lb (544 kg) ball as far as one mile. It was dubbed "the Great Turkish Bombard". 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,[2] being only reported in the letter of Archbishop Leonardo di Chio[31] and the later and often unreliable Russian chronicle of Nestor Iskander). Orban's accomplishments in dealing with such fine tolerances on such a massive scale place his work as one of the greatest engineering feats of the time yet nothing is certainly known about his demise[39]. 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.[38]
Mehmed II leading the Ottoman army as it marches from Edirne to start the siege of Constantinople, transporting the Great Turkish Bombard
Mehmed II leading the Ottoman army as it marches from Edirne to start the siege of Constantinople, transporting the Great Turkish Bombard

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.

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#13 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:04 AM

, as the Sultan himself arrived with his last troops, the defenders took up their positions.[40] 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 Mesoteichon, 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. Guistiniani was stationed to the north of the emperor, at the Charisian Gate and the Myriandrion; later during the siege, he was shifted to the Mesoteichon to join Constantine, leaving the Myriandron to the defense of the Bocchiardi brothers. Minotto and his Venetians were stationed in the Blachernae palace, together with Teodoro Caristo, the Langasco brothers, and Archbishop Leonardo di Chio. 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 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, respectively. The Genoese Alviso Diedo commanded the ships in the harbour. Although the Byzantines also had cannons, they were much smaller than those of the Ottomans and the recoil tended to damage their own walls.[31]

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 Marmora. Mehmed himself erected his red-and-gold tent near the Mesoteichon, 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.[41]

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#15 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:08 AM

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 Marmora were taken within a few days. The Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmora were taken by Admiral Baltoghlu's fleet[42].

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.[43]


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#16 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:09 AM

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[44] managed to slip in after some heavy fighting, an event which strengthened the morale of the defenders and caused embarrassment to the Sultan.[43] 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.[43] This seriously threatened the flow of supplies from Genovese ships from the - nominally neutral - colony of Pera 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 Serbians sent from Novo Brdo by the Serbian Despot. They were placed under the rule 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[45].

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, an advice which the Sultan was glad to follow. Suspected of having been bribed by the Byzantines, Halil Pasha was put to death later that year.[46]

On May 22, 1453, the moon, symbol of Constantinople, rose in dark eclipse, fulfilling a prophecy on the city's demise[47]. 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. 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.[48]

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.[49] Nonetheless the Emperor was able to receive the aid of the 12 in the defense of the city.

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#18 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:10 AM

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.[50] 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.[50] 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.
Mehmed II encourages the fleet during the siege of Constantinople
Mehmed II encourages the fleet during the siege of Constantinople

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.[51] Shortly after midnight the attack began. The first wave of attackers, the azabs (auxi[tony blair]ies), 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,[2][31][30] Giovanni Giustiniani, was grievously wounded during the attack, and his evacuation from the ramparts caused a panic in the ranks of the defenders.[52] 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 while. At this point, some historians suggest that the Kerkoporta gate in the Blachernae section had been left unlocked, and the Ottomans soon discovered this mistake.[53] 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. 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.[54]

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#20 [url]

Apr 30 08 6:12 AM

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 Apostles, 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. A few of the elderly and some infants were summarily slain with a commercial ruthlessness.[55] Soldiers fought over the possession of richly clad senators or for the comely youth or maiden.[55][56]

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.[57] 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).[58].[59]
Constantine XI: The last Byzantine emperor
Constantine XI: The last Byzantine emperor

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:

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