Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Fall of Constantinople

The Seige of Constantinople
On this day in 1453, the Roman Empire disappeared.  Since the 1430s the imperial capital, Constantinople had been surrounded on all sides by the forces of the Ottoman Turks.  The Balkans, Thrace, and Asia Minor fed the Muslim armies, while Constantinople, for the most part, had to be supplied by sea from the imperial lands in the Pelloponese.

For hundreds of years, Constantinople had held out, first against the Arabs, then the Seljuk Turks, and finally the Ottoman Turks.  But throughout that time the Roman Empire shrank in size, while the Muslims took all the land around Constantinople.  By 1453 the city, the jewel of Christendom lay in the heart of Ottoman territory, a beautiful thorn of independence between the eastern and western parts of the Ottoman Empire.

The last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI, who viewed himself as not only the Roman Emperor, but as the secular protector of the Church and "father" to all Christian kings and head of a commonwealth of all Christian states, continued to hold out for help from the kings of the west.  Though some of the merchant cities of northen Italy sent help, the kings of the west failed.  The most help came from western individuals such as Giovanni Giustianani, who brought with him 700 Genoese soldiers trained in defending walled cities. It was a pitiable token number, but it was almost enough.  Including the Genoese, the defenders had about 2,500 men to repel about 50,000 attackers, including 1,500 Christian cavalrymen from Serbia who were already subjects of the Turks.  Five years before the attack on Constantinople, the Christian prince of Serbia, though a subject of the Sultan paid for the repair and improvement of the walls of Constantinople. Constantinople had high thick walls, among the best fortifications in the world at that time.

A Gun Used in the Ottoman Seige of Constantiople
The seige began on April 7.  For the next seven weeks, while the Church prayed continuously and the smoke from censers mingled with the smoke from canon, attack after attack was repulsed by the outnumbered defenders on the outer walls.  But the western-built canons of the Mohamadens (Will the west ever stop siding with Muslims against Orthodox Christians?), eventually, breeched the walls.

On the dawn of May 29, when the final all-out attack began, the Serbian Christian subjects of the Sultan were the first to fall before the walls of the city.  Strangly, just as there were some Christian subjects of the Ottoman Turks fighting against the Roman Empire, there were Muslim subjects of the Roman empire helping to defend Conastantinople. Turkish soldiers working for the Romans and commanded by a Turk defended one section of the walls along the sea, and remained loyal to the Roman Empire till the very end. Nevertheless after nearly two months of fighting there were not enough Romans or allies left to defend the walls.  Actually, there had never been enough men to defend the walls, and only the outer walls had been manned.  But against these walls, built centuries earlier, the bodies of the attackers were piled up.

By the end of the attack the main formations of the Ottoman Turks were slain or exhausted.  But the Sultan had terrible force held in reserve, and over the bodies of the fallen these dreadful formations came: The reserve battalions of Janasaries, Balken Christian children kidnapped and raised to be killers for Mohamed and the personal bodyguard of the Sultan.

On this morning, when he saw the Janaseries raise the Ottoman flag over the walls, the Emperor, having put off the purple but arrayed in the splendor of courage, charged with the last of his knights into the seething army of Islam.  The emperor's body was never found.

Memory Eternal!

1 comment:


Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.