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Fall of

ons
antinople
1453
CONSTANTINOPLE: The City
The capital of Byzantine Empire Constantinople was located in the Bosporus strait in the Sea of Marmara with a
natural harbor called the Golden Horn.

‘Constantinople was surrounded by fourteen miles of walls with different quarters. Many of which till its fall were
uninhabited. The churches and beautiful buildings Constantinople was founded by the Emperor Constantine I were
neglected, only a few churches if imperial palace were maintained while the patriarchal palace had also been
abandoned. Only the great cathedral of Holy Wisdom of God, St. Sophia was still maintained.’1

“From the air one can pick out the steady, unbroken line of fortifications that guard these two seawards sides of the
triangle and see how the sea currents rip past the tip of the rhino horn at the seven knots: the city’s defenses are
natural as well as man-made. But it is the base of the triangle that is most extraordinary. A complex, triple collar of
walls, studded with closely spaced tower and flanked by a formidable ditch. This was the thousand year land wall of
Theodosius.” 2

‘The walls, stretched from Blachernae quarter on the Golden Horn to the Studion quarter on the Sea of Marmara and
it were near the Blachernae quarter that the attack was expected.’3

Constantinople was the red forbidden apple for the Muslims and that is why they coveted it. It was a great port since
all the trade from Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea passed through its shores. The fact that it was a symbol of the
greatness of Christianity only made it more appealing. It was now just a question of who would be the one to take
apple for him.

1
Runciman
2
Pg 1, Crowley
3
Op. cit 87
EMPIRE AND THE SULTANATE
In the year of 1400 one of the greatest empires of the world was declining while a few forces were rising opposite its
shores.

The Byzantine Empire had long defended itself against the Ottomans despite its disintegration and decay. History
tells us that after every rise comes a fall and each empire also ends after its zenith. This was the same. The empire has
been reduced to Constantinople and Thessalonica along with few other territories. It was this tragic remnant of an
empire that was passed onto Constantine XI. There were no resources as a result the population had dwindled while
religious differences tore them apart.

‘The dwindling population of Constantinople on the eve of its fall contained many of its finest intellects of the time.
But political decay was fast while the matter of union with Catholic Church caused a schism. The last few emperors
spent their meager finances to repair the walls against an eventual Turkish onslaught.’ 1

For a long time Muslims had tried to conquer Constantinople and the ottomans were no different. They siege the city
----- times because not only did it signify Christianity but because it had been ordained. “Nothing could be more
spectacular than the conquest of Constantinople. The great historian Ibn e Khuldun related a tradition of the prophet
himself stating that He who will destroy the Byzantine emperor and spend his treasures in god’s behalf will be
expected Mahdi when he conquers Constantinople.” 2

The ottoman had gained considerable power and territories. Murat II had also eliminated all opposition from the
Balkan and other states after the battle. Thus when Mehmet II came to the throne at the age of twenty one he had a
vast, well controlled empire. From the beginning of his reign he took steps that would help him in his ambition to
conquer Constantinople. He made peace treaties so that his frontiers would be protected. But it had been due to his
predecessors who had passed on a strong and consolidated empire that he was able to nurture this idea.

“The Ottomans felt that Constantinople was the true natural capital of their empire. Its acquisition by themselves
would consolidate their power and invest them with the majesty that still lingered round these walls, the chosen seat
of Roman Empire for 11 years.”3

1
Runciman, chap 1
2
Shaw, pg 55
3
Creasy, pg. 122
DECLARATION AND PREPARATION
Thus Mehmet II began to make preparation to achieve his aim. He provided for the full security for his territories in
Asia as well as in Europe. He then began building a great fortress “Rumeli Hisar” seven kilometers from the shores of
Constantinople.

Constantine XI also tried to defend himself against eventual attack from the Turks. He made the mistake of under
estimating Mehmet and provided an excuse for an attack by threatening to put up a pretender, Orkhan, for the Turkish
throne. “Also when the Emperor sends ambassadors to protest against the fortress, the Sultan had then decapitated. It
was his declaration of war.”1

Both sides began preparation for the siege. Mehmet collected best of his troops at Adrianople. Also he collected in
front of the walls of Constantinople an army, estimated at hundred and fifty thousand men, including 12000
janissaries and a vast number of irregulars and camp followers. To knock down the strong walls Mehmet hired a
Hungarian Urban to cast a cannon of enormous size. He also constructed a large fleet of war vessels consisting of a
great Armada. The Turks were also eager and thus came in large numbers to fight.

On the other side, “In the devoted city the Emperor with equal ability, but far different feelings collected the poor
resources of his own remnants of an empire and the scanty succors of western nation for the defense.”2

The emperor in order to get aid from the pope had agreed to the reconciliation of the two churches, Greek orthodox
and Roman Catholic. However people did not support him as they were not ready to sacrifice their beliefs. Therefore
many did not take part in the defense and “the great city with its fourteen miles of walls had to be defended by less
than seven thousand men.”3

One of the most powerful men, Grand Duke Notaras also was against but was later persuaded to defend the city.
“Latin auxiliaries were contributed by the Pope. Brands of Aragonese, Catalans and of Venetians gave assistance. His
most important auxiliary was the Genoese commander, John Giustiniani who arrived with two galleys and three
hundred men. No means of restoring or improving the defenses were neglected.”4

1
Brockelmann, pg. 227
2
Creasy, pg. 124
3
Runciman, pg. 85
4
Creasy, pg. 125-126
INTRODUCTION
For Europe Constantinople signified the greatness of the Greek and roman empires imbibed with the great spirit of
Christianity. It was a symbol of European power and influence. At the same time, it was a challenge to the Muslim
Emperors for whoever would conquer it would be the great Fateh of Islam.

However Constantinople was not only an attraction in religious views rather it location made it a great trade asset. It
had been these qualities that had lured invaders including Muslims to Constantinople. The Ottomans also aspired to
be the rulers this city. It was finally Mehmet II, whose ambition and courage were unparalleled, who succeeded in
conquering Constantinople and restoring it to its former glory.

To understand how this came about, we first need to consider the circumstances of that period. The Ottoman Empire
was on its rise while the once great Byzantine Empire had now dwindled down to a few territories. We also took at
the strategic and religious importance of the city itself. In the last we took at how this city fell and what were the
repercussions of its defeat.
Siege and fall of Constantinople
From 1st April, 1453 Turkish troops began gathering along the walls of Constantinople. By 6th both sides were
prepared to fight to the last man. On the Byzantine side was the Emperor himself with Giustiniani and the Genoese,
the Venetians, the pretender Orhan and his Turk supporters, Cardinal Isidore from the Pope and the Megadux Lucas
Notaras with the rest of the inhabitants of the city. When the Greeks had seen the large army amassing at the walls of
the city, it drove the problem home for them and everyone came to defend the city against the infidel.

The Sultan himself took command in the Lycus Valley while sections of the army were sent out under Zaganos
Pasha, Karadja Pasha, Mahmud Pasha a few of his trusted officials and entrusted his precious fleet to Baltoghlu. His
strategy to attack the city from both the land and sea was a brilliant maneuver as he had a large army at his disposal
while the Greeks would be stretched thin guarding all sides of the city. It showed his far-sightedness and superior
military planning. In the past only the land walls had been attacked which were almost impregnable and repaired
almost at once by the Byzantines and thus led to failure of the siege.

“The city was subjected to heavy bombardment both from the sea and the land. The double walls of the city were
reduced by the cannon to a heap of ruins. Breaches were made at several points.”1 Also the huge cannon devised by
Urban managed to cause great harm to the walls but the defense though weak was a spirited one and kept on working
to repair the walls.

During the siege the Ottoman blockade of the harbor had been breached by four Genoese galleys that brought
provisions to the city. “During the night of 21st and 22nd April, However, the Ottoman fleet, tired of its passive role in
the Bosporus managed to drag a number of boats over the Galata hills down into the Golden Horn, putting them in a
position to fire over the sea walls, from the other side spreading the Byzantine defenders even more thinly.”2 The
Golden Horn was lost to the Byzantines and so was any means of escape or salvation.

The final assault took place on the night of 28th May. The outer wall being destroyed by the cannon resulted in hand
to hand fighting. At first the irregulars of the Sultan’s army fought but were pushed back by the defenders, lastly
came the elite Janissary corps who started fighting with limited success. It was only due to a mistake of a gate being
left open in the inner Blacharnae wall that the Turks were able to breach the city. “The Ottoman fleet broke the
Byzantine chain and entered the Golden Horn. The emperor apparently was killed while fighting on the city walls.
Once within the city the Ottomans advanced slowly and methodically clearing the streets of remaining defenders.”3

Thus fell the last city of the great Byzantine Empire. According to ancient Islamic custom, a city conquered is given
over to the conquering army for three days of pillage. The soldiers massacred many of the population while the
wealthier classes were sold into slavery and the city cleared of many of its treasures. The sultan stopped all of this in
the evening and entered the city after three days escorted by his finest Janissary guards. He proceeded to the Hagia
Sophia and converted it into a mosque. He restored peace to the city but was not that merciful as he was initially. He
had the Grand Duke Notaras killed and the pretender Orhan executed. He was heard to remark’ “What a city we have
handed over for destruction.”

Consequences and After-Effects


1
Masud-ul-Hasan pg. 213
2
Shaw pg. 57
3
Ibid pg. 57
Mehmet’s conquest of Constantinople sent shockwaves throughout Europe. None had really believed that this
Turkish infidel could conquer the city of God and especially it did not bode well for all those who had opposed the
Ottomans. Mehmet knew that to make Constantinople the new capital of his empire he would have to restore its
population as well as its fortifications and buildings.

To encourage the Greeks back to their city with other Europeans he decided to restore order to the Church. “First he
installed a new patriarch at the head of the Greek Orthodox Church and proclaimed himself as its protector.”1 He also
granted a charter giving them some civil and religious autonomy. It showed the sultan’s remarkable foresight and
statesmanship.

Many Greek families were forcibly relocated in an effort to repopulate the city especially artisans and other
craftsmen. Also Muslim families were encouraged to move, among others such as Armenians, Bulgarians, Serbians
and Jews. This was because many had fled the city due to its deteriorating conditions and many quarters were
deserted.

“Efforts to repopulate the city were accompanied by construction work. Thousands of homes, bridges, markets,
streets, walls and factories had fallen into ruins during the later centuries of Byzantine rule. Public buildings such as
schools, places of worship, fountains, hospitals, public baths and hotels were constructed and maintained through
religious endowment funds provided by the Sultan, his family, the ruling class or rich subjects.”2

Mehmet was also a great patron of art and learning and many craftsmen, artisans, scholars and other intellectuals
were relocated to Constantinople. “To the individual mosques were soon added rich libraries into which the treasures
of the three Islamic literature poured in unparalleled abundance.” 3 This was the greatest revival of Constantinople
after its zenith in the Byzantine Empire.

The effects of the fall of Constantinople served as a reminder of the threat of the rising Ottoman power. Mehmet first
consolidated his rule in the Balkan Peninsula; Serbia and Bosnia were captured while Walachia was made a vassal
state. Albania was also captured along with the last Greek stronghold in Asia Minor; the Empire of Trebizond was
subdued. The Sultan now controlled all of Asia Minor and most of Europe.

Efforts for formal conversion to Islam were made along with the formation of Islamic millet. Jizya was imposed and
timar lands were granted in payment for services. Mehmet imposed direct Ottoman administration formalized by
census and other methods.

“Possession of the great commercial, administrative, and military center facilitated the assimilation, control and
defense of the waterways between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, established a stronghold on European
trade with the hinterlands to the north and east and provided considerable new revenues.”4 Mehmet was now master
of one of the greatest and most profitable sea-routes of that time.

1
Creasy pg. 140
2
Shaw pg. 59-60
3
Brockelmann pg. 280
4
Op cit. pg 57
Conclusion
Mehmet conquered Constantinople not only for the honor but for the necessity of doing so; it was a palpable threat to
the security of the Ottomans as long as it rested in Christian hands. Constantinople was a prize to anyone who
captured it because of its many benefits.

Only by examining the conditions of the empire and the natures of Sultan Mehmet 2 and Constantine 11 can we
understand how this event occurred. For it could only have been a strong and far-sighted ruler like Mehmet who
could have accomplished this feat and though Constantine was no weakling it was his empire that was unable to
withstand the onslaught. So for each of them it was the consequences that were responsible for the outcome.

By seeing the whole sequence of events we see how even Christian Europe failed to unite in the aid of Constantinople
and how deep and disastrous was the schism between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. Today
when the West accuses Islam of having too many sects and divisions they do not remember the Byzantine Empire and
their failure to maintain it. Even though the fall seemed like a catastrophe for Europe it eventually paved the way for
the Renaissance and end of Dark Ages of Europe.

The fall of Constantinople proved that every city, every dynasty, every empire must one day meet its end. Every rise
has a fall and to think otherwise is foolish. All great cities Pompeii, Athens, Rome etc fell and it was then
Constantinople’s time. Even today for many Muslims it was a sign that greatness is possible.