Land forces: [e] 50,000–80,000:101
:49:52:618[page needed][page needed]
[f]100,000:755–160,000[page needed][page needed]–200,000[page needed]
70 cannons:139–14014 large and 56 small caliber):179
70 ships,:4420 galleys
90 – 126 ships 
600 Ottoman defectors
Casualties and losses
Unknown but heavy[page needed]
4,000 killed in total (including combatants and civilians):37–8
30,000 enslaved or deported
^ More specifically, the
Byzantine Empire under the Palaiologos
^ The Venetians decided to make a peace treaty with the Ottomans in
September 1451, because they were on good terms already with the
Ottomans and they did not want to ruin a relationship. They also did
not want the Ottomans to interfere with their trade in the Black Sea
and Mediterranean. The Venetians' efforts mainly included giving
Constantine XI ships and a total of 800 soldiers in February 1453. The
Venetians also promised that a larger fleet would arrive to save
Constantine, this fleet would be full of ammunition, fresh soldiers
and supplies. This fleet arrived too late.
Kingdom of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily mainly donated ships and a few soldiers, it
was not official however, and was done by several Cardinals.
^ The Genoese captain
Giovanni Giustiniani Longo was wounded in
battle, but managed to escape, he died during the early days of June
^ Figures according to recent estimates and Ottoman archival data. The
Ottoman Empire, for demographic reasons, would not have been able to
put more than 80,000 men into the field at the time.:215
^ Figures according to contemporaneous Western/Christian
^ By nationality, there were 5,000
Greeks and 2,000 foreigners, mostly
of Genoese and Venetian origin.
The Fall of
Constantinople (Greek: Ἅλωσις τῆς
Κωνσταντινουπόλεως, Halōsis tēs
Kōnstantinoupoleōs; Turkish: İstanbul'un Fethi Conquest of
Istanbul) was the capture of the capital of the
Byzantine Empire by an
invading army of the
Ottoman Empire on 29 May 1453. The Ottomans were
commanded by the then 21-year-old
Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror,
who defeated an army commanded by
Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI
Palaiologos. The conquest of
Constantinople followed a 53-day siege
that had begun on 6 April 1453.
The capture of
Constantinople (and two other
territories soon thereafter) marked the end of the
Byzantine Empire, a
continuation of the
Roman Empire dating to 27 BC, an imperial state
lasting for nearly 1,500 years. The Ottoman conquest of
Constantinople also dealt a massive blow to Christendom, as the Muslim
Ottoman armies thereafter were left unchecked to advance into Europe
without an adversary to their rear. After the conquest, Sultan Mehmed
II transferred the capital of the
Ottoman Empire from
It was also a watershed moment in military history. Since ancient
times, cities had used ramparts and city walls to protect themselves
from invaders, and Constantinople's substantial fortifications had
been a model followed by cities throughout the Mediterranean region
and Europe. The Ottomans ultimately prevailed due to the use of
gunpowder (which powered formidable cannons).
The conquest of the city of
Constantinople and the end of the
Byzantine Empire was a key event in the
Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages which
also marks, for some historians, the end of the Middle Ages.
1 State of the
2.1.1 Ottoman dispositions and strategies
Byzantine dispositions and strategies
3.1 Final assault
3.2 Plundering phase
4.1 Third Rome
4.2 Impact on the Churches
5 Cultural references
5.2 Cultural impact
5.3 Impact on the Renaissance
5.4 Megali idea
5.5 Renaming of the city
5.6 In historical fiction
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
State of the
Constantinople had been an imperial capital since its consecration in
330 under Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great. In the following
eleven centuries, the city had been besieged many times but was
captured only once: during the
Fourth Crusade in 1204.:304 The
crusaders established an unstable Latin state in and around
Constantinople while the remaining empire splintered into a number of
Byzantine successor states, notably Nicaea, Epirus and Trebizond. They
fought as allies against the Latin establishments, but also fought
among themselves for the
The Nicaeans eventually reconquered
Constantinople from the Latins in
1261. Thereafter there was little peace for the much-weakened empire
as it fended off successive attacks by the Latins, the Serbians, the
Bulgarians, and, most importantly, the Ottoman
Turks.[page needed] [page needed] The Black
Plague between 1346 and 1349 killed almost half of the inhabitants of
Constantinople. The city was severely depopulated due to the
general economic and territorial decline of the empire, and by 1453
consisted of a series of walled villages separated by vast fields
encircled by the fifth-century Theodosian walls.
By 1450 the empire was exhausted and had shrunk to a few square miles
outside the city of
Constantinople itself, the
Princes' Islands in the
Sea of Marmara, and the
Peloponnese with its cultural center at
Mystras. The Empire of Trebizond, an independent successor state that
formed in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, also survived on the
coast of the Black Sea.
Mehmed II succeeded his father in 1451, he was just
nineteen years old. Many European courts assumed that the young
Ottoman ruler would not seriously challenge Christian hegemony in the
Balkans and the Aegean. This calculation was boosted by Mehmed's
friendly overtures to the European envoys at his new court. But
Mehmed's mild words were not matched by actions. By early 1452, work
began on the construction of a second fortress (Rumeli hisarı) on the
Bosphorus, on the European side several miles north of
Constantinople, set directly across the strait on the Asian side from
the Anadolu Hisarı fortress, built by his great-grandfather Bayezid
I. This pair of fortresses ensured complete control of sea traffic on
the Bosphorus; and defended against attack by the Genoese colonies
Black Sea coast to the north. (This new fortress, was called
Boğazkesen, which means 'strait-blocker' or 'throat-cutter', to
emphasize its strategic position.) In October 1452, Mehmed ordered
Turakhan Beg to station a large garrison force in the
block Thomas and Demetrios (despotes in Southern Greece) from
providing aid to their brother
Constantine XI Palaiologos
Constantine XI Palaiologos during the
impending siege of Constantinople.[nb 1]
Michael Critobulus says about
the speech of
Mehmed II to his soldiers: "My friends and men of my
empire! You all know very well that our forefathers secured this
kingdom that we now hold at the cost of many struggles and very great
dangers and that, having passed it along in succession from their
fathers, from father to son, they handed it down to me. For some of
the oldest of you were sharers in many of the exploits carried through
by them—those at least of you who are of maturer years—and the
younger of you have heard of these deeds from your fathers. They are
not such very ancient events nor of such a sort as to be forgotten
through the lapse of time. Still the eyewitness of those who have seen
testifies better than does the hearing of deeds that happened but
yesterday or the day before."
Constantine XI swiftly
understood Mehmed's true intentions and turned to
Western Europe for
help; but now the price of centuries of war and enmity between the
eastern and western churches had to be paid. Since the mutual
excommunications of 1054, the
Pope in Rome was committed to
establishing authority over the eastern church. Nominal union had been
negotiated in 1274, at the Second Council of Lyon, and indeed, some
Palaiologoi emperors (Latin, Palaeologan) had since been received into
the Latin church. Emperor
John VIII Palaiologos
John VIII Palaiologos had also recently
negotiated union with
Pope Eugene IV, with the Council of Florence of
1439 proclaiming a Bull of Union. These events, however, stimulated a
propaganda initiative by anti-unionist Orthodox partisans in
Constantinople; the population, as well as the laity and leadership of
Byzantine Church, became bitterly divided. Latent ethnic hatred
Greeks and Italians, stemming from the events of the Massacre
of the Latins in 1182 by the
Greeks and the sack of
1204 by the Latins, played a significant role. Finally, the attempted
Union failed, greatly annoying
Pope Nicholas V and the hierarchy of
the Roman church.
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).
In the summer of 1452, when Rumelı 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 12 December 1452.:373 Although he was eager for
Pope Nicholas V did not have the influence the
Byzantines thought he had over the Western kings and princes, some of
whom were wary of increasing Papal control, and these had not the
wherewithal to contribute to the effort, especially in light of the
weakened state of France and England 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
Battle of Varna
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 on their
own account. Cardinal Isidore, funded by the pope, arrived in 1452
with 200 archers One of these was an accomplished soldier from
Genoa, Giovanni Giustiniani, who arrived with 400 men from
300 men from Genoese Chios, in January 1453.:83–84 As 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 that happened
to be present in the
Golden Horn offered their services to the
Emperor, barring contrary orders from Venice, and
undertook to send three ships laden with provisions, which set sail
near the end of March.:81
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 in February 1453, but there were
delays, and when it finally set out late in April, it was already too
late for it to be able to take part in the
battle.[page needed]:85 Further undermining Byzantine
morale, seven Italian ships with around 700 men slipped out of the
capital at the moment when Giustiniani arrived, men who had sworn to
defend the capital. At the same time, Constantine's attempts to
appease the Sultan with gifts ended with the execution of the
Emperor's ambassadors — even
Byzantine diplomacy could not save
Restored Walls of Constantinople
The chain that closed off the entrance to the
Golden Horn in 1453, now
on display in the İstanbul Archaeology Museums.
Fearing a possible naval attack along the shores of the Golden Horn,
Constantine XI ordered that a defensive chain be placed at the
mouth of the harbour. This chain, which floated on logs, was strong
enough to prevent any Turkish ship from entering the harbour. This
device was one of two that gave the Byzantines some hope of extending
the siege until the possible arrival of foreign help.:380 This
strategy was enforced because in 1204 the armies of the Fourth Crusade
successfully circumvented Constantinople's land defenses by breaching
Golden Horn Wall. Another strategy employed by the Byzantines was
the repair and fortification of the Land Wall (Theodosian Walls).
Emperor Constantine deemed it necessary to ensure that the Blachernae
district's wall were the most fortified because that section of the
wall protruded northwards. The land fortifications comprised a
60 ft (18 m) wide moat fronting inner and outer crenellated
walls studded with towers every 45–55 metres.
Constantinople and the dispositions of the defenders and the
The army defending
Constantinople was relatively small, totaling about
7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreigners.[nb 2] At the onset of the
siege, probably fewer than 50,000 people were living within the walls,
including the refugees from the surrounding area.:32 [nb 3]
Turkish commander Dorgano, who was in
Constantinople in the pay of the
Emperor, was also guarding one of the quarters of the city on the
seaward side with the Turks in his pay. These Turks kept loyal to the
Emperor and perished in the ensuing battle. The defending army's
Genoese corps were well trained and equipped, while the rest of the
army consisted of small numbers of well-trained soldiers, armed
civilians, sailors and volunteer forces from foreign communities, and
finally monks. The garrison used a few small-calibre artillery
bullets, which nonetheless proved ineffective. The rest of the city
repaired walls, stood guard on observation posts, collected and
distributed food provisions, and collected gold and silver objects
from churches to melt down into coins to pay the foreign soldiers.
The Ottomans had a much larger force. Recent studies and Ottoman
archival data state that there were about 50,000–80,000 Ottoman
soldiers including between 5,000 and 10,000
Janissaries,[page needed][page needed][page needed]
an elite infantry corps, and thousands of Christian troops, notably
1,500 Serbian cavalry that the Serbian lord
Đurađ Branković was
forced to supply as part of his obligation to the Ottoman
sultan—just a few months before, he had supplied the money for the
reconstruction of the walls of Constantinople. Contemporaneous Western
witnesses of the siege, who tend to exaggerate the military power of
the Sultan, provide disparate and higher numbers ranging from 160,000
to 200,000 and to 300,000[page needed](Niccolò Barbaro:
160,000; the Florentine merchant Jacopo Tedaldi and the Great
Logothete George Sphrantzes:[page needed] 200,000; the
Cardinal Isidore of Kiev and the Archbishop of
di Chio: 300,000). At this time cannons were being made.
Ottoman dispositions and strategies
The Dardanelles Gun, cast in 1464 and based on the
Orban bombard that
was used by the Ottoman besiegers of
Constantinople in 1453 (British
Royal Armouries collection).
Mehmed built a fleet to besiege the city from the sea (partially
manned by Greek sailors from
Gallipoli).[page needed]Contemporary estimates of the
strength of the Ottoman fleet span between about 100 ships
(Tedaldi), 145 (Barbaro), 160 (Ubertino Pusculo),
200–250 (Isidore of Kiev, Leonardo di Chio) to 430
(Sphrantzes).[page needed] A more realistic modern estimate
predicts a fleet strength of 126 ships comprising 6 large galleys, 10
ordinary galleys, 15 smaller galleys, 75 large rowing boats, and 20
Before the siege of Constantinople, it was known that the Ottomans had
the ability to cast medium-sized cannons, but the range of some pieces
they were able 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 (Urban), a Hungarian
(though some suggest he was German).:374 One cannon designed by
Orban was named "Basilica" and was 27 feet (8.2 m) long, and able
to hurl a 600 lb (272 kg) stone ball over a mile
Modern painting of Mehmed and the Ottoman Army approaching
Constantinople with a giant bombard, by Fausto Zonaro
The master founder initially tried to sell his services to the
Byzantines, who were unable to secure the funds needed to hire him.
Orban then left
Constantinople and approached Mehmed II, claiming that
his weapon could blast 'the walls of
Babylon itself'. Given abundant
funds and materials, the Hungarian engineer built the gun within three
months at Edirne, from which it was dragged by sixty oxen to
Constantinople. In the meantime,
Orban also produced other cannons for
the Turkish siege forces.:77–8
Orban's cannon had several drawbacks: it took three hours to reload;
cannonballs were in very short supply; and the cannon is said to have
collapsed under its own recoil after six weeks (this is
disputed,[page needed] however, given that it was only
reported in the letter of Archbishop Leonardo di Chio and in the
later and often unreliable Russian chronicle of Nestor Iskander).[nb
4] Having previously established a large foundry about 150 miles
(240 km) away, Mehmed now had to undergo the painstaking process
of transporting his massive artillery pieces. Orban's giant cannon was
said to have been accompanied by a crew of 60 oxen and over 400
In preparation for the final assault, Mehmed had an artillery train of
seventy large pieces dragged from his headquarters at Edirne, in
addition to the bombards cast on the spot.
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.
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 Marmara. Mehmed himself erected his red-and-gold tent near
the Mesoteichion, where the guns and the elite regiments, the
Janissaries, were positioned. The Bashi-bazouks were spread out behind
the front lines. Other troops under
Zagan 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.:94–5
Byzantine dispositions and strategies
Painting of the Fall of Constantinople, by Theophilos Hatzimihail
The city had about 20 km of walls (land walls: 5.5 km; sea
walls along the Golden Horn: 7 km; sea walls along the Sea of
Marmara: 7.5 km), one of the strongest sets of fortified walls in
existence. 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.:39In addition, the defenders were relatively
well-equipped with a fleet of 26 ships: 5 from Genoa, 5 from Venice, 3
from Venetian Crete, 1 from Ancona, 1 from Aragon, 1 from France, and
about 10 Byzantine.:45
On 5 April, the Sultan himself arrived with his last troops, and the
defenders took up their positions. 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 Mesoteichion, 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.
Giustiniani was stationed to the north of the emperor, at the
Charisian Gate (Myriandrion); later during the siege, he was shifted
to the Mesoteichion to join Constantine, leaving the Myriandrion to
the charge of the Bocchiardi brothers. Minotto and his Venetians were
stationed in the
Blachernae palace, together with Teodoro Caristo, the
Langasco brothers, and Archbishop Leonardo of Chios. :92
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. :92
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. Pere Julià was
stationed at the Great Palace with Genoese and Catalan troops;
Isidore of Kiev
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
Loukas Notaras and Nicephorus
Palaeologus, respectively. The Venetian Alviso Diedo commanded the
ships in the harbor. :94
Although the Byzantines also had cannons, they were much smaller than
those of the Ottomans and the recoil tended to damage their own
According to David Nicolle, despite many odds, 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.:40It has also been claimed that
Constantinople was "the
best-defended city in Europe" at that time.
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 Marmara
Sea of Marmara were
taken within a few days. The
Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara
were taken by Admiral Baltoghlu's fleet.:96–7 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
The Ottoman Turks transport their fleet overland into the Golden Horn.
Meanwhile, despite some probing attacks, the Ottoman fleet under
Suleiman Baltoghlu could not enter the
Golden Horn due to the chain
the Byzantines had previously stretched across the entrance. Although
one of the fleet's main tasks was to prevent any ships from outside
from entering the Golden Horn, on 20 April a small flotilla of four
Christian ships[nb 5] managed to slip in after some heavy fighting, an
event which strengthened the morale of the defenders and caused
embarrassment to the Sultan.:376 Baltoghlu's life was spared after
his subordinates testified to his bravery during the conflict.
Mehmed ordered the construction of a road of greased logs across
Galata on the north side of the Golden Horn, and dragged his ships
over the hill, directly into the
Golden Horn on 22 April, bypassing
the chain barrier.:376 This seriously threatened the flow of
supplies from Genoese 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. Forty Italians escaped their sinking ships
and swam to the northern shore. On orders of Mehmed, they were impaled
on stakes, in sight of the city's defenders on the sea walls across
the Golden Horn. In retaliation, the defenders brought their Ottoman
prisoners, 260 in all, to the walls, where they were executed, one by
one, before the eyes of the Ottomans.:108 With the failure of
their attack on the Ottoman vessels, the defenders were forced to
disperse part of their forces to defend the sea walls along the Golden
The Ottoman army had made several frontal assaults on the land wall of
Constantinople, but were always repelled with heavy losses.
Venetian surgeon Niccolò Barbaro, describing in his diary one of such
frequent land attacks especially by the Janissaries, wrote:
They found the Turks coming right up under the walls and seeking
battle, particularly the Janissaries ... and when one or two of
them were killed, at once more Turks came and took away the dead
ones ... without caring how near they came to the city walls. Our
men shot at them with guns and crossbows, aiming at the Turk who was
carrying away his dead countryman, and both of them would fall to the
ground dead, and then there came other Turks and took them away, none
fearing death, but being willing to let ten of themselves be killed
rather than suffer the shame of leaving a single Turkish corpse by the
Constantinople as depicted between 1453 and 1475.
After these inconclusive frontal offensives, the Ottomans sought to
break through the walls by constructing underground tunnels in an
effort to mine them from mid-May to 25 May. Many of the sappers were
miners of Serbian origin sent from
Novo Brdo by the Serbian despot.
They were placed under the command of Zagan Pasha. However, an
engineer named Johannes Grant, a German[nb 6] who came together with
the Genoese contingent, had counter-mines dug, allowing Byzantine
troops to enter the mines and kill the workers. The Byzantines
intercepted the first Serbian tunnel on the night of 16 May.
Subsequent tunnels were interrupted on 21, 23, and 25 May, and
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
On 21 May, Mehmed sent an ambassador to
Constantinople and offered to
lift the siege if they gave him the city. He promised he would allow
the Emperor and any other inhabitants to leave with their possessions.
Moreover, he would recognize the Emperor as governor of the
Peloponnese. Lastly, he guaranteed the safety of the population that
might choose to remain in the city.
Constantine XI only agreed to pay
higher tributes to the sultan and recognized the status of all the
conquered castles and lands in the hands of the Turks as Ottoman
Giving you though the city depends neither on me nor on anyone else
among its inhabitants; as we have all decided to die with our own free
will and we shall not consider our lives.[nb 7]
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
Zagan Pasha argued against Halil Pasha, and insisted
on an immediate attack. Mehmed planned to overpower the walls by sheer
force, expecting that the weakened
Byzantine defense by the prolonged
siege would now be worn out before he ran out of troops and started
preparations for a final all-out offensive.
Painting by the Greek folk painter
Theophilos Hatzimihail showing the
battle inside the city, Constantine is visible on a white horse
Preparations for the final assault were started in the evening of 26
May and continued to the next day.:378 For 36 hours after the war
council decision to attack, the Ottomans extensively mobilized their
manpower in order to prepare for the general offensive.:378 Prayer
and resting would be then granted to the soldiers on the 28th, and
then the final assault would be launched. On the
Byzantine side, a
small Venetian fleet of 12 ships, after having searched the Aegean,
reached the Capital on May 27 and reported to the Emperor that no
large Venetian relief fleet was on its way.:377 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.:651–2
Shortly after midnight on May 29 the all-out offensive began. The
Christian troops of the
Ottoman Empire attacked first, followed by the
successive waves of the irregular azaps, who were poorly trained and
Anatolians who focused on a section of the Blachernae
walls in the northwest part of the city, which had been damaged by the
cannon. This section of the walls had been built earlier, in the
eleventh century, and was much weaker. The
Anatolians managed to
breach this section of walls and entered the city but were just as
quickly pushed back by the defenders. Finally, as the battle was
continuing, the last wave, consisting of elite Janissaries, attacked
the city walls. The Genoese general in charge of the land
troops,[page needed] Giovanni Giustiniani, was
grievously wounded during the attack, and his evacuation from the
ramparts caused a panic in the ranks of the defenders.[nb 8]
Sultan Mehmed II's entry into Constantinople, painting by Fausto
With Giustiniani's Genoese troops retreating into the city and towards
the harbor, Constantine and his men, now left to their own devices,
kept fighting and managed to successfully hold off the Janissaries for
a while, but eventually they could not stop them from entering the
city. The defenders were also being overwhelmed at several points in
Constantine's section. When Turkish flags were seen flying above a
small postern gate, the Kerkoporta, which was left open, panic ensued,
and the defense collapsed, as
Janissary soldiers, led by Ulubatlı
Hasan pressed forward. Many Greek soldiers ran back home to protect
their families, the Venetians ran over to their ships, and a few of
the Genoese got over to Galata. The rest committed suicide by jumping
off the city walls or surrendered.[page needed] The Greek
houses nearest to the walls were the first to suffer from the
Ottomans. It is said that Constantine, throwing aside his purple
regalia, led the final charge against the incoming Ottomans, perishing
in the ensuing battle in the streets just like his soldiers. On the
other hand, Nicolò Barbaro, a Venetian eyewitness to the siege, wrote
in his diary that it was said that Constantine hanged himself at the
moment when the Turks broke in at the San Romano gate, although his
ultimate fate remains unknown.[nb 9]
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 Church of the Holy Apostles.
A small few lucky civilians managed to escape. When the Venetians
retreated over to their ships, the Ottomans had already taken the
walls of the Golden Horn. Luckily for the occupants of the city, the
Ottomans were not interested in killing them, but rather in the loot
they could get from raiding the city's houses, so they decided to
attack the city instead. The Venetian captain ordered his men to break
open the gate of the Golden Horn. Having done so, the Venetians left
in ships filled with soldiers and refugees. Shortly after the
Venetians left, a few Genoese ships and even the Emperor's ships
followed them out of the Golden Horn. This fleet narrowly escaped
prior to the Ottoman navy assuming control over the Golden Horn, which
was accomplished by midday.[page needed] 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. After the
doors were breached, the troops separated the congregation according
to what price they might bring in the slave markets.
Ottoman casualties are unknown but they are believed by most
historians to be very heavy due to several unsuccessful Ottoman
attacks made during the siege and final assault. Barbaro described
blood flowing in the city "like rainwater in the gutters after a
sudden storm", and bodies of the Turks and Christians floating in the
sea "like melons along a canal".
Mehmed II had promised to his soldiers three days to plunder the city,
to which they were entitled.:145 Soldiers fought over the
possession of some of the spoils of war.:283 According to the
Venetian surgeon Nicolò Barbaro "all through the day the Turks made a
great slaughter of Christians through the city". According to Philip
Mansel, widespread persecution of the city's civilian inhabitants took
place, resulting in thousands of murders and rapes and 30,000
civilians being enslaved or forcibly deported.
The looting was extremely thorough in certain parts of the city. Weeks
later on 2 June, the Sultan would find the city largely deserted and
half in ruins; churches had been desecrated and stripped, houses were
no longer habitable and stores and shops were emptied. He is famously
reported to have been moved to tears by this, speaking "What a city we
have given over to plunder and destruction.":152
On the third day of the conquest,
Mehmed II ordered all looting to
stop and issued a proclamation that all Christians who had avoided
capture or who had been ransomed could return to their homes without
further molestation, although many had no homes to return to, and many
more had been taken captive and not ransomed.:150–51 Byzantine
historian George Sphrantzes, an eyewitness to the fall of
Constantinople, described the Sultan's actions:
On the third day after the fall of our city, the Sultan celebrated his
victory with a great, joyful triumph. He issued a proclamation: the
citizens of all ages who had managed to escape detection were to leave
their hiding places throughout the city and come out into the open, as
they were to remain free and no question would be asked. He further
declared the restoration of houses and property to those who had
abandoned our city before the siege. If they returned home, they would
be treated according to their rank and religion, as if nothing had
Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, but the Greek Orthodox
Church was allowed to remain intact and
Gennadius Scholarius was
appointed Patriarch of Constantinople. This was once thought to be the
origin of the Ottoman millet system, however, it is now considered a
myth and no such system existed in the fifteenth century.
Following the city's conquest, the Church of the
Holy Wisdom (the
Hagia Sophia) was converted into a mosque.
After the sack, many feared other European Christian kingdoms would
suffer the same fate as Constantinople. Two possible responses emerged
amongst the humanists and churchmen of that era:
Crusade or dialogue.
Pius II strongly advocated for another Crusade, while Nicholas of
Cusa supported engaging in a dialogue with the Ottomans.
The Morean (Peloponnesian) fortress of Mystras, where Constantine's
brothers Thomas and Demetrius ruled, constantly in conflict with each
other and knowing that Mehmed would eventually invade them as well,
held out until 1460. Long before the fall of Constantinople, Demetrius
had fought for the throne with Thomas, Constantine, and their other
brothers John and Theodore.:446Thomas escaped to Rome when the
Morea while Demetrius expected to rule a puppet
state, but instead was imprisoned and remained there for the rest of
his life. In Rome, Thomas and his family received some monetary
support from the
Pope and other Western rulers as
Byzantine emperor in
exile, until 1503. In 1461 the independent
Byzantine state in
Trebizond fell to Mehmed.:446
Constantine XI had died without producing an heir, and had
Constantinople not fallen he likely would have been succeeded by the
sons of his deceased elder brother, who were taken into the palace
service of Mehmed after the fall of Constantinople. The oldest boy,
renamed to Murad, became a personal favorite of Mehmed and served as
Beylerbey (Governor-General) of Rumeli (the Balkans). The younger son,
renamed Mesih Pasha, became Admiral of the Ottoman fleet and Sancak
Beg (Governor) of the Province of Gallipoli. He eventually served
twice as Grand Vizier under Mehmed's son, Bayezid II.
With the capture of Constantinople,
Mehmed II had acquired the
"natural" capital of its kingdom, albeit one in decline due to years
of war. The loss of the city was a crippling blow to Christendom, and
it exposed the Christian west to a vigorous and aggressive foe in the
east. The Christian re-conquest of
Constantinople remained a goal in
Western Europe for many years after its fall to the House of Osman.
Rumors of Constantine XI's survival and subsequent rescue by an angel
led many to hope that the city would one day return to Christian
Pope Nicholas V called for an immediate counter-attack in the
form of a crusade. When no European monarch was
willing to lead the crusade, the
Pope himself decided to go, but his
early death stopped this plan. As
Western Europe entered the 16th
century, the age of Crusading began to come to an end.
For some time Greek scholars had gone to Italian city-states, a
cultural exchange begun in 1396 by Coluccio Salutati, chancellor of
Florence, who had invited Manuel Chrysoloras, a
Byzantine scholar to
lecture at the University of Florence. After the conquest many
Greeks, such as
John Argyropoulos and Constantine Lascaris, fled the
city and found refuge in the Latin West, bringing with them knowledge
and documents from the Greco-Roman tradition to Italy and other
regions that further propelled the Renaissance. Those Greeks
who stayed behind in
Constantinople mostly lived in the
Galata districts of the city. The Phanariotes, as they were called,
provided many capable advisers to the Ottoman rulers.
Main article: Third Rome
Mehmed II the Conqueror, by Gentile Bellini
Byzantium is a term used by modern historians to refer to the later
Roman Empire. In its own time, the Empire ruled from Constantinople
(or "New Rome" as some people call it, although this was a laudatory
expression that was never an official title) was considered simply as
"the Roman Empire." The fall of
Constantinople led competing factions
to lay claim to being the inheritors of the Imperial mantle. Russian
Byzantine heritage clashed with those of the Ottoman
Empire's own claim. In Mehmed's view, he was the successor to the
Roman Emperor, declaring himself Kayser-i Rum, literally "Caesar of
Rome", that is, of the Roman Empire, though he was remembered as "the
Conqueror". He founded a political system that survived until 1922
with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.
Stefan Dušan, Tsar of Serbia, and Ivan Alexander, Tsar of Bulgaria
both made similar claims, regarding themselves as legitimate heirs to
the Roman Empire. Other potential claimants, such as the Republic of
Venice and the Holy
Roman Empire have disintegrated into history.
Impact on the Churches
In 17th century Russia, the Fall of
Constantinople had a role in the
fierce theological and political controversy between adherents and
opponents of the reforms in the Russian Orthodox Church, carried out
Patriarch Nikon and intended to bring the Russian Church closer to
the norms and practices of other Orthodox churches.
Avvakum and other
of the "Old Believers" saw these reforms as a corruption of the
Russian Church, which they considered to be the "true" Church of God.
As the other Churches were more closely related to
Avvakum argued that
Constantinople fell to the Turks
because of these heretical beliefs and practices.
The fall of
Constantinople has a profound impact on the ancient
Pentarchy of the Orthodox Church. Today, the four ancient sees of
Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and
Constantinople are almost
completely void of followers and believers due to the Islamization and
Dhimma system that Christians lived under since the earliest days of
Islam. As a result of this process, the center of authority in the
Orthodox Church changed and became centered in Eastern Europe (e.g.,
Russia) rather than previously, in the former
Byzantine Middle East.
There are many legends in Greece surrounding the Fall of
Constantinople. It was said that the partial lunar eclipse that
occurred on 22 May 1453 represented a fulfillment of a prophecy of the
city's demise. 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, which some interpreted as the Holy
Spirit departing from the city. "This evidently indicated the
departure of the Divine Presence, and its leaving the City in total
abandonment and desertion, for the Divinity conceals itself in cloud
and appears and again disappears."  For others, there was still a
distant hope that the lights were the campfires of the troops of John
Hunyadi who had come to relieve the city.[nb 10]
Another legend 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 that
Constantinople returns to Christian
hands.:147 Another legend refers to the Marble King (Constantine
XI), holding that an angel rescued the emperor when the Ottomans
entered the city, turning him into marble and placing 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).
Guillaume Dufay composed several songs lamenting the fall of the
Eastern church, and the duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, avowed to
take up arms against the Turks. However, as the growing Ottoman power
from this date on coincided with the
Protestant Reformation and
subsequent Counter-Reformation, the recapture of
an ever-distant dream. Even France, once a fervent participant of the
Crusades, became an ally of the Ottomans.
Nonetheless, depictions of Christian coalitions taking the city and of
the late Emperor's resurrection by
Leo the Wise
Leo the Wise persisted.:280
Impact on the Renaissance
Main article: Greek scholars in the Renaissance
The migration waves of
Byzantine scholars and émigrés in the period
following the sacking of
Constantinople and the fall of Constantinople
in 1453 is considered by many scholars key to the revival of Greek and
Roman studies that led to the development of the Renaissance
humanism[dead link][better source needed] and science.
These émigrés were grammarians, humanists, poets, writers, printers,
lecturers, musicians, astronomers, architects, academics, artists,
scribes, philosophers, scientists, politicians and
theologians.[better source needed] They brought to
Western Europe the far greater preserved and accumulated knowledge of
their own (Greek) civilization.
Between 1919 and 1922, Greek politician Eleftherios Venizelos
attempted to implement the
Megali Idea (recapture of Constantinople
from the Ottoman Empire) in the
Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922)
Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) since
Ottoman Empire was severely weakened by its defeat in World War I
and by the occupation of
Constantinople by the British and
French.[clarification needed] However, in the course of the war
Venizelos lost the election of 1920 and went into exile and Greece was
defeated in the war by Turkey.
Renaming of the city
Ottomans used the Arabic transliteration of the city's name
"Kostantiniyye," (القسطنطينية), as can be seen in numerous
Ottoman documents. Islambol (اسلامبول, Full of Islam) or
Islambul (find Islam) or Islam(b)ol (old Turkic: be Islam), both in
Turkish Language, were folk-etymological adaptations of Istanbul
created after the Ottoman conquest of 1453 to express the city's new
role as the capital of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. It is first
attested shortly after the conquest, and its invention was ascribed by
some contemporary writers to Sultan
Mehmed II himself.
The name of
Istanbul is thought to be derived from the Greek phrase
īs tīmbolī(n) (Greek: εἰς τὴν πόλιν, translit. eis
tēn pólin, "to the City"), and it is claimed that it had already
spread among the Turkish populace of the
Ottoman Empire before the
Istanbul only became the official name of the city
in 1930 by the revised Turkish Postal Law as part of Atatürk's
In historical fiction
Lew Wallace, The Prince of India; or, Why
Constantinople Fell. New
York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1893. 2 volumes
Mika Waltari, The Dark Angel (Original title Johannes Angelos) 1952.
Translated from the Finnish by Naomi Walford and pub. in English
edition, New York: Putnam, 1953
Muharem Bazdulj, "The Bridge on Land" from The Second Book, 2000.
Translated from Bosnian by Oleg Andric and Andrew Wachtel and pub. in
English edition, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2005
Andrew Novo, Queen of Cities, Seattle: Coffeetown Press, 2009
Jack Hight, Siege. London: John Murray Publisher Ltd, 2010
James Shipman, "Constantinopolis", Amazon Digital Services, 2013
C.C. Humphreys, A Place called Armageddon. London: Orion, 2011
Emanuele Rizzardi, L'ultimo Paleologo. PubMe Editore, 2017
John Bellairs, "The Trolley to Yesterday" Dial, 1989
Kiersten White, "The Conqueror's Saga" 2016
Byzantine Empire portal
Military history of the
Ottoman Empire portal
"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?", question linked to
the imagery of pointless debate while the city was falling.
Military of the Ottoman Empire
Tursun Beg (Turkish historian)
Dolfin Dolfin, venetian, naval commander during the siege
Mehmed II had been steadily preparing for the siege of
Constantinople, he had sent the old general Turakhan and the latter's
two sons, Ahmed Beg and Omar Beg, to invade the
Morea and to remain
there all winter also to prevent the despots Thomas and Demetrius from
giving aid to Constantine XI.:146
^ According to Sphrantzes, whom Constantine had ordered to make a
census, the Emperor was appalled when the number of native men capable
of bearing arms turned out to be only 4,983. Leonardo di Chio gave a
number of 6,000 Greeks.:85
^ The Spanish Cristóbal de Villalón claims there were ' 60,000
Turkish households, 40,000 Greek and Armenian, 10,000 Jewish.:85
^ Another expert who was employed by the Ottomans was Ciriaco de'
Pizzicolli, also known as Ciriaco of Ancona, a traveler and collector
of antiquities.
^ These were the three Genoese ships sent by the Pope, joined by a
large Imperial transport ship which had been sent on a foraging
mission to Sicily previous to the siege and was on its way back to
^ Runciman speculates that he may have been Scottish:84
^ Original text: Τὸ δὲ τὴν πόλιν σοῖ δοῦναι
οὔτ' ἐμὸν ἐστίν οὔτ' ἄλλου τῶν
κατοικούντων ἐν ταύτῃ• κοινῇ γὰρ
γνώμῃ πάντες αὐτοπροαιρέτως
ἀποθανοῦμεν καὶ οὐ φεισόμεθα τῆς
^ Sources hostile towards the Genoese (such as the Venetian Nicolò
Barbaro), however, report that Longo was only lightly wounded or not
wounded at all, but, overwhelmed by fear, simulated the wound to
abandon the battlefield, determining the fall of the city. These
charges of cowardice and treason were so widespread that the Republic
Genoa had to deny them by sending diplomatic letters to the
Chancelleries of England, France, the Duchy of Burgundy and
others.:296–97 Giustiniani was carried to Chios, where he
succumbed to his wounds a few days later.
^ Barbaro added the description of the emperor's heroic last moments
to his diary based on information he received afterward. According to
some Ottoman sources Constantine was killed in an accidental encounter
with Turkish marines a little further to the south, presumably while
making his way to the
Sea of Marmara
Sea of Marmara in order to escape by
^ It is possible that all these phenomena were local effects of the
Kuwae volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean. The "fire"
seen may have been an optical illusion due to the reflection of
intensely red twilight glow by clouds of volcanic ash high in the
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Ancient History Encyclopedia - 1453: The Fall of Constantinople
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Fall of Constantinople
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1529 Peñón of Algiers
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Coordinates: 41°01′00″N 28°58′37″E / 41.0167°N
28.9769°E / 41.0