Fall of Constantinople by the Turks on May 29, 1453

Fall of constantine i the great

Capture of Constantinople by the Turks on May 29, 1453

May 29, 1453 is traditionally one of the key dates in Western history and it is the fall of Constantinople by the Turks. That day, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II. The city, a remnant of the Roman Empire, was the ultimate repository of classical antiquity. It also acted as a defensive wall of Christianity against the push of Islam.

The final fall of Constantinople

The fall of Constantinople becomes inevitable when invaders from Asia, the Ottoman Turks, cross the Bosphorus Strait. They seized most of the Balkan Peninsula and set up their capital at Adrianople, a stone’s throw north of Constantinople.

In the middle of the 15th century, reduced to about 40,000 inhabitants and devoid of a hinterland, Constantinople was no more than a small state connected with the markets of the Far East for the greater benefit of the merchants of Venice and of Genoa who stock up on Chinese silks there. It has for its defense only 7,000 Greek soldiers and a detachment of about 700 Genoese.

After a heroic resistance, Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor, died on the ramparts of his city. His body has never been found.

Le siège de Constantinople (1453) by Jean Le Tavernier after 1455
The siege of Constantinople (1453), French miniature by Jean Le Tavernier after 1455. Fall of Constantinople: 6 April – 29 May 1453. Jean Le Tavernier, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The siege of Constantinople begins in April 1453 with 150,000 men

The basileus (emperor in Greek) Constantin XI relies on the powerful fortifications inherited from the past to resist the Turks while waiting for hypothetical help. In front of this triple circle of walls, Sultan Mehmet II called upon all the resources of the artillery. It has no less than 25 to 50 large bombards (primitive cannons) and several hundred smaller ones which will constantly hurl stones and cannonballs at the walls for several weeks in a row.

The sultan’s huge fleet completes the siege of the city by the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. He also manages to enter the channel of the Golden Horn.

The fatal dawn arrives when tens of thousands of men, drunk with impatience, enter the city. In the Hagia Sophia, the Greek emperor dies, arms in hand, in the midst of his last soldiers. From midday, the sultan can enter the city.

The fighting left 4,000 dead. According to the tradition of the time, the victors offer themselves the right to plunder the city, to rape and to kill who better than best during the three days which follow its fall. All the surviving inhabitants (25,000) are reduced to slavery.

Sultan Mehmet II, who is thinking of making Constantinople his own capital and wants to preserve its grandeur, ensures that the looting does not drag on. He brings in immigrants from all over the empire to restore the city to its ancient splendor. He can finally move his capital from the neighboring city of Adrianople to Constantinople, soon to be renamed Istanbul. This will reach its peak under the reign of Soliman II the Magnificent… Note that until the end of the Ottoman Empire, it will retain a predominantly Christian population.

The end of Middle Ages

Historians date this event as the end of the long historical period called for lack of a better Middle Ages. The Renaissance which succeeded it owes much to Byzantine scholars and artists who, having taken refuge in Italy, contributed to the rediscovery of ancient culture by Westerners.

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What are the reasons for the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire?

1. An isolated city within a weakened empire

In the 15th century, Emperor Constantine XI lost his influence. He struggles to control his empire, and only maintains his power over the capital and its surroundings and over a small part of the Peloponnese. The finances of the emperor of Constantinople are not doing well because he has lost what once made his wealth: the strategic control of the trade routes between the Far East and the West.

Constantinople may be a stronghold of Christianity in the East, mistrust of the West is only growing there, and the population has been marked by the last crusade which ravaged the city. In addition, the city, which now has about 40,000 inhabitants, no longer has the means to ensure its defense in an optimal way: its army then rises to about 8,000 men, equipped with weak artillery.

2. The rise of a formidable adversary

To make matters worse, the Ottoman Empire has a new sultan, the young Mehmed II, also named Mehmet II the Conqueror. Upon his arrival to the throne, he proves to be a great strategist with ambition. He therefore set out to conquer Constantinople, and put all the chances on his side by depriving the Byzantines of their allies thanks to the signing of various peace treaties. It also builds an important artillery.

It is therefore extremely well prepared that on March 23, 1453, Mehmet II and his army set sail for Constantinople. At the beginning of April, the Turkish troops settled at the gates of the city’s fortifications and undertook to make them yield with cannon fire. If at first, Constantin XI manages to repel the attacks of the invader, the situation is complicated with the siege of the city.

3. The siege of Constantinople: nearly 40 days of fighting

Miraculously, ships loaded with food and ammunition sent by Pope Nicolas V and by Venice to support the Byzantines manage to pass despite the maritime blockade imposed by the Turks. But despite the various aids received, the pressure exerted by the Turks increased and Constantinople began to weaken. On April 23, the Emperor Constantine took a step towards his adversary by offering peace against the payment of a tribute. Mehmet II does not accept any negotiation: during May, the Sultan’s army multiplies the attacks, both on the portions of the wall already damaged and on the naval level.

On the night of May 28 to 29, the Turks made the final assault and succeeded in entering Constantinople in the early morning.

During the following days, many citizens managed to flee the fighting taking place in the city. On the evening of May 29, Mehmet II marched on the imperial city and entered the Hagia Sophia to thank Allah for his victory in this symbolic sacred place. Even if a mystery still surrounds the real conditions of the death of Constantine XI, the legend says that the last Byzantine emperor would have died in battle.

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October 10, 1443 – Accession of Constantine XI Paleologus to the Despotate of Morea

Constantine XI Paleologus Dragases (1404-1453) became despot of Morea, a possession of the Byzantine Empire in the Peloponnese peninsula, a position he held until 1449. The death of his brother, John VIII, called him indeed to succeed him as emperor: crowned in the ancient city of Mistra, capital of the Morea, he was the last Byzantine emperor in history, unable to avoid the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans of Mehmet II, May 29, 1453.

January 6, 1449 – Election of Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos

On January 6, 1449, Constantine XI Palaiologos was elected Byzantine Emperor. During his reign, Constantine XI Paleologus had to face the assault on the city of Constantinople by the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II, who managed to take the city after battles in which the Byzantine emperor lost his life. Died in 1453, Constantine XI Paleologus will be the last Roman Emperor in history.

February 18, 1451 – Second sultanate of Mehmet II al Fatih

On February 18, 1451, Sultan Mehmet II al Fatih, known as Mehmet II the Conqueror, took over the reins of the Ottoman Empire for the second time, after a first reign between 1444 and 1446. This second reign will be much longer than the first. since it will last until his death in 1481, a death attributed to the instigation of Pope Sixtus IV who wished to avoid plans to conquer Rome by the sultan.

April 20, 1453 – Battle of the Bosphorus

April 20, 1453 is the date of a naval battle between Genoese ships and a Byzantine transport to an Ottoman fleet that came to try to besiege the city of Constantinople located a little further in the Bosphorus. In the end, the Turkish army will be defeated and send a message of defeat to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II. Thanks to this victory, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI manages to keep his empire a little longer.

May 29, 1453 – Constantinople in the hands of the Ottoman Turks

Capital of the Byzantine Empire since 395, Constantinople fell into the hands of the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II, after a siege of several weeks. Since the 14th century, the Ottoman Turks have taken over most of the Balkan Peninsula. This victory cuts the West off from its Greek and Eastern roots. The city will be renamed Istanbul and will reach its peak during the reign of Suleiman II the Magnificent (1520-1566).

May 29, 1453 – Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos is killed in battle

On the night of May 28-29, 1453, Turkish troops entered Constantinople. Constantine XI was then killed in action, but his body was never identified and no witness related the scene for posterity. Phrantzes, his childhood friend, diplomat and writer, was not present when the Byzantine emperor died. Greek tradition tells that he died bravely, giving his life to save Constantinople. Other Western versions claim that he was killed while fleeing.

1457 – The fall of Constantinople and it becomes Istanbul

In winter 1457, Sultan Mehmet II decided to set up the capital of his Ottoman Empire in Constantinople, the city he had conquered four years earlier in 1453. Constantinople then changed its name to the city of Istanbul. At this same period, Mehmet II launched the first code of Turkish law: the “Kanun-name”. This first code of law allows the sultan to lay the foundations for the organization of his Ottoman Empire.

Hagia Sophia mosque and Ahmed III fountain, Constantinople, Turkey, ca. 1896
Hagia Sophia mosque and Ahmed III fountain, Constantinople, Turkey, ca. 1896. Following the city’s conquest, the Church of the Holy Wisdom (the Hagia Sophia) was converted into a mosque. Hagia Sophia was built in 537, with minarets added in the 15th–16th centuries when it became a mosque. See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sources: PinterPandai, Britannica, Harvard University

Photo credit: File:Hagia_Sophia_Southwestern_entrance_mosaics.jpg: Photograph: Myrabelladerivative work: Myrabella, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo description: Emperor Constantine I is showing a model of the city Constantinople to Mary and Baby Jesus in this old picture from the Hagia Sophia church. It’s a special mosaic in Hagia Sophia, which is in Istanbul, Turkey.

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