THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE
Constantinople was the largest and richest urban center in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea during the late Eastern Roman Empire, mostly as a result of its strategic position commanding the trade routes between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea.
It would remain the capital of the eastern, Greek speaking empire for over a thousand years and it was the richest and largest European city, exerting a powerful cultural pull and dominating economic life in the Mediterranean. Visitors and merchants were especially struck by the beautiful monasteries and churches of the city, particularly Hagia Sophia, or the Church of Holy Wisdom.
It was especially important for preserving manuscripts of Greek and Latin authors throughout a period when instability and disorder caused their mass destruction in Western Europe and North Africa. The cumulative influence of the city on the west, over the many centuries of its existence, is incalculable. In terms of technology, art and culture, as well as sheer size, Constantinople was without parallel anywhere in Europe for a thousand years.
The Leader of the Greeks
Constantine XI February 8, 1404-May 29, 1453) was the last reigning Byzantine Emperor from 1449 to his death as member of the Palaiologos dynasty.
Constantine was born in Mistra as the eighth of ten children. He spent most of his childhood in Constantinople under the supervision of his parents. During the absence of his older brother in Italy, Constantine was regent in Constantinople from 1437-1440.
Constantine became the Despotes of Morea (the Medieval name for the Peloponnesus) in October 1443, ruling from the fortress and palace in Mistra. At the time, Mistra was a center of arts and culture rivaling Constantinople.
After establishing himself as the Despot, Constantine worked to strengthen the defense of Morea, including reconstructing a wall across the Isthmus of Corinth called the Hexamilion, "the Six Mile Wall."
In the summer of 1444, he launched an invasion of the Latin Duchy of Athens from Morea, swiftly conquering Thebes and Athens and forcing its Florentine duke to pay him tribute. The Duchy was ruled by Nerio II Acciaioli, a vassal of the Ottoman Sultan.
However, his triumph was short-lived. In the autumn of 1446, the Ottomans advanced on Morea with 50-60,000 soldiers. Constantine and his brother Thomas braced for the attack at the Hexamilion, which the Ottoman army reached on November 27, 1446. While the wall may have held against medieval attacks, Sultan Murad had cannons to supplement the usual siege engines and scaling ladders, leaving the Hexamilion in ruins by December 10. Constantine and Thomas barely escaped. The winter prevented a full conquest of Morea, and Murad left that to another day, but put an end to Constantine's attempt to expand his Despotate.
Constantine XI married twice: the first time on July 1, 1428 to Maddalena Tocco, niece of Carlo I Tocco of Epirus, who died in November 1429; the second time to Caterina Gattilusio, daughter of Dorino of Lesbos, who also died (1442). He had no children by either marriage.
After Caterina's death, in 1447, Constantine XI sent George Sphrantzes to the East to find a bride for the emperor in Trebizond and Georgia. The choice eventually fell on the Georgian princess, a daughter of George VIII but the negotiations took time and they were overtaken by the tragic events of 1453.
Despite the foreign and domestic difficulties during his reign, which culminated in the fall of Constantinople and of the Byzantine Empire, contemporary sources generally speak respectfully of the emperor Constantine.
When his brother, Emperor John VIII Palaiologos, died, a dispute erupted between Constantine and his brother Demetrios Palaiologos over the throne. Demetrios drew support for his opposition to the union between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. The Empress Helena, acting as regent, supported Constantine. They appealed to the Ottoman Sultan Murad II to arbitrate the disagreement.
Murad chose Constantine, who was crowned at Mistra on January 6, 1449. It was unusual to crown an emperor outside of Constantinople (and without a Patriarch of the Orthodox Church), and no ecclesiastical coronation was ever performed. Constantine was forced to seek passage to his capital on a Catalan ship, arriving in March 1449. Constantine XI attempted to marry a distant cousin, Maria Branković, the widow of Murad II, but the courtship failed.
Sultan Murad died in 1451, succeeded by his 19 year old son Mehmed II. (meh-MOOD).
Leader of the Turks
Mehmet II(also known as el-Fātiḥ , "the Conqueror" in Ottoman Turkish, or, in modern Turkish, Fatih Sultan Mehmet; Known as Mahomet II (March 30, 1432, Edirne – May 3, 1481, was Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (Rûm until the conquest) for a short time from 1444 to September 1446, and later from February 1451 to 1481. At the age of 21, he conquered Constantinople, bringing an end to the Byzantine Empire. Mehmet continued his conquests in Asia, with the Anatolian reunification, and in Europe, as far as Belgrade. Administrative actions of note include amalgamating the old Byzantine administration into the Ottoman state. Beside Turkish, he spoke French, Latin, Greek, Serbian, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew.
He had several wives: Valide Sultan Amina Gul-Bahar , an Orthodox Greek woman of noble birth from the village of Douvera, Trabzon,who died in 1492, the mother of Bayezid II, and Gevher Sultana; Gulshah Hatun; Sitti Mukrime Hatun; Hatun Çiçek; Helene Hatun, who died in 1481, daughter of Demetrios II Palaiologos, the Despot of Morea; briefly Anna Hatun, the daughter of the Emperor of Trebizond; and Hatun Alexias, a Byzantine princess. Another son of his was Djem Zizim, who died in 1495.
Early reignMehmed II was born in Edirne, the then-capital city of the Ottoman state, on March 30, 1432. His father was Sultan Murad II (1404–51) and his mother Valide Sultan Hüma Hatun, born in Devrekani county of Kastamonu province, was a daughter of Abd'Allah of Hum (Huma meaning a girl/woman from Hum). When Mehmed II was 11 years old he was sent to Amasya to govern and thus gain experience, as per the custom of Ottoman rulers before his time.
After Murad II made peace with the Karaman Emirate in Anatolia in August 1444, he abdicated the throne to his 12-year-old son Mehmed II.
During his first reign, Mehmed II asked his father Murad II to reclaim the throne in anticipation of the Battle of Varna, but Murad II refused. Enraged at his father, who had long since retired to a contemplative life in southwestern Anatolia, Mehmed II wrote: "If you are the Sultan, come and lead your armies. If I am the Sultan I hereby order you to come and lead my armies." It was upon this letter that Murad II led the Ottoman army in the Battle of Varna in 1444.
It is said Murad II's return to the throne was forced by Chandarli Khalil Pasha, the grand vizier at the time, who was not fond of Mehmed II's rule, since Mehmed II's teacher was influential on him and did not like Chandarli. Chandarli was later executed by Mehmed II during the siege of Constantinople on the grounds that he had been bribed by or had somehow helped the defenders.
He married Valide Sultan Amina Gul-Bahar, of Greek descent of noble birth from the village of Douvera, Trabzon, who died in 1492. She was the mother of Bayezid II.
Soon afterwards, Mehmed II began agitating for the conquest of Constantinople. Constantine threatened to release Prince Orhan, a pretender to the Ottoman throne, unless Mehmed met some of his demands. To Mehmed, this was the last straw, and he considered Constantine to have broken the truce. The following winter of 1451-52, Mehmed built Rumelihisari, a fortress on a hill at the European side of the Bosporus, just north of the city, as a prelude for a siege.
Desperate for any type of military assistance, Constantine XI appealed to the West and reaffirmed the union of Eastern and Roman Churches which had been signed at the Council of Florence. However, the union was overwhelmingly rejected by his subjects and it dangerously estranged him from Loukas Notaras, his chief minister and military commander. 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. While Constantine also sought assistance from his brothers in Morea, any help was forestalled by an Ottoman invasion of the peninsula in 1452. The siege of the city began in the winter of 1452. Constantine faced a siege with 7000 men in his capital of 60,000 people.