May 29, 1453: Fall of Constantinople

Screen Shot 2017 05 29 at 1.18.41 pm

The Fall of Constantinople occurred on May 29, 1453, after a siege that began on April 6. The battle was part of the Byzantine-Ottoman Wars (1265-1453).

Screen Shot 2017 05 29 at 1.18.41 pm

Ascending to the Ottoman throne in 1451, Mehmed II began planning to reduce Constantinople's Byzantine capital.

The Empire was led by Constantine XI, reduced to the area around the city and a large part of the Peloponnese in Greece. Already possessing a fortress on the Asian side of the Bosporus, Anadolu Hisari, Mehmed began constructing one on the European shore known as Rumeli Hisari.

Effectively taking control of the strait, Mehmed was able to cut off Constantinople from the Black Sea and any potential aid that might be received from the Genoese colonies in the region. Constantine was increasingly concerned about the Ottoman threat and appealed to Pope Nicholas V for aid. Despite centuries of animosity between the Orthodox and Roman churches, Nicholas agreed to seek help in the West. This was largely fruitless as many of the Western nations were engaged in their conflicts and could not spare men or money to aid Constantinople.

While Mehmed tightened the noose around Constantinople, elements of his army swept through the region, capturing minor Byzantine outposts. Emplacing his large cannon, he began battering at the Theodosian Walls with little effect. As the gun required three hours to reload, the Byzantines could repair the damage caused between shots.

As initial assaults against the Theodosian Walls had repeatedly failed, Mehmed ordered his men to begin digging tunnels to mine beneath the Byzantine defences.

Constantinople began to plummet as word was received that no aid would come from Venice. In addition, a series of omens, including a thick, unexpected fog that blanketed the city on May 26, convinced many that the city was about to fall. Believing that the fog masked the departure of the Holy Spirit from Hagia Sophia, the population braced for the worst. Frustrated by the lack of progress, Mehmed called a council of war on May 26. Meeting with his commanders, he decided that a massive assault would be launched on the night of May 28/29 after a period of rest and prayer.

Shortly before midnight on May 28, Mehmed sent his auxiliaries forward. Poorly equipped, they were intended to tire and kill as many of the defenders as possible. These were followed by an assault against the weakened Blachernae walls by troops from Anatolia.

These men succeeded in breaking through but were quickly counterattacked and driven back. Having succeeded, Mehmed's men attacked next but were held by Byzantine forces under Giustiniani. The Byzantines in Blachernae held until Giustiniani was badly wounded. As their commander was taken to the rear, the defence began to collapse.

To the south, Constantine led forces defending the walls in the Lycus Valley. Also, under heavy pressure, his position began to collapse when the Ottomans found that the Kerkoporta gate to the north had been left open. Constantine was forced to fall back with the enemy surging through the gate and unable to hold the walls. Opening additional gates, the Ottomans poured into the city.

Though his exact fate is unknown, Constantine is believed to be killed, leading to a last desperate attack against the enemy. Fanning out, the Ottomans began moving through the city, with Mehmed assigning men to protect key buildings.

Having taken the city, Mehmed allowed his men to plunder its riches for three days.

Ottoman losses during the siege are not known, but it is believed that the defenders lost around 4,000 men. A devastating blow to Christendom, the loss of Constantinople, led Pope Nicholas to call for an immediate crusade to recover the city.

Despite his pleas, no Western monarch stepped forward to lead the effort. A turning point in Western history, the Fall of Constantinople is seen as the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. Following the Fall of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque.

Fleeing the city, Greek scholars arrived in the West with priceless knowledge and rare manuscripts. The loss of Constantinople also severed European trade links with Asia leading many to seek routes east by sea and keying the age of exploration. For Mehmed, the city's capture earned him the title "The Conqueror" and provided him with a key base for campaigns into Europe.

The Ottoman Empire held the city until its collapse after WWI.

Read More -The Formal Opening of Constantinople's Church of St. Saviour in Chora as a Mosque Sparks Controversy

GCT Team

This article was researched and written by a GCT team member.

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