The great city of Constantinople was founded in AD 324 by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Many enemies tried to invade the city in the past, but none of them succeeded as it was heavily fortified. The Ottoman Turks led by Murad II also tried to invade the city in 1422 but they, too, were unsuccessful. Finally, in 1453, Constantinople was taken by the Ottomans after a successful siege led by Mehmed II. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History during that time.
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Endings and Beginnings
Murad II’s young son, Mehmed II, reigned as Turkish sultan back when his father abdicated in 1444. However, Mehmed II’s first reign ended several months later when war with the Hungarians and the rebellion of the Turkish elite soldiers (janissaries) threatened the Ottoman Empire. Murad came back to lead the Ottomans in defeating the Hungarians in the Battle of Varna in November 1444. Murad II later died on the 3rd of February 1451 in the Turkish capital of Edirne (formerly Adrianople). His ambitious son, Mehmed II, then came back to rule a stronger Ottoman Empire.
Mehmed had learned his lesson when he was temporarily removed as a ruler in the past. He was still ambitious, but he became cautious and smart. After ordering the death of his younger brother to secure his throne, he allowed his father’s competent vizier Halil Pasha to stay. He also made peace with the surrounding kingdoms early in his reign as he wanted to focus on capturing Constantinople.
To prepare for the siege of Constantinople, Mehmed ordered for a fortress called Boğazkesen to be built on the northwestern shore of the Bosporus. Boğazkesen meant ‘Cutter on the Strait’ in Turkish, and it was located a few kilometers away from Constantinople. The Boğazkesen as well as other smaller camps that surrounded the walls of Constantinople served as a jump-off point for the siege. For several months, the residents of Constantinople watched helplessly as the fortress was being built. They knew that it was only a matter of time before the dreaded siege of the city started.
A Desperate Emperor
Constantine XI Palaiologos succeeded his brother John VIII as Byzantine Emperor in 1449. Just like the past Palaiologi rulers, he inherited a poor and reduced Empire. Despite the empire’s loss, he still tried to build the defenses of Constantinople by having the city walls repaired. A Hungarian engineer named Orban approached Constantine in 1452. He proposed to make a supergun to counter the Turks, but the emperor refused to hire him as he found Orban’s salary too high. Letting Orban go, however, proved to be a costly mistake.
Orban left Constantinople and offered his services to Mehmed II instead. The sultan then hired him and gave him all the materials that he needed. Orban, with the help of Turkish iron founders, created the cannon that changed the history of Constantinople and of warfare. During the early months of 1453, Mehmed and his troops camped out near the walls of Constantinople. His army (which numbered between 160,000 to 400,000) outnumbered the Byzantines who came up with only a pitiful 5,000 defenders. But it was the supergun (or bombard) designed by the Hungarian engineer Orban that became the game changer.
Constantine asked the rulers of the cities of Genoa and Venice for help. Genoa sent him some troops, and Constantine assigned them to defend the western side of the city. Venice, meanwhile, added to the Byzantine naval fleet but those were not nearly enough. None of the neighboring kingdoms were also prepared to help Constantinople. The emperor’s brothers who ruled in the Peloponnese were unable to help as they, too, were hemmed in by Mehmed’s troops in Greece.
The Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks
The siege of Constantinople started on the 6th of April 1453. The Turkish troops loaded large round stones inside the bombard designed by Orban and hurled them toward the walls of the city. The bombardment continued for 45 days, but each time the Byzantines repaired the walls so that the Turks could not enter the city—yet. The chain which protected the Golden Horn from many enemies in the past was also deemed useless when the Turks completely bypassed it. The Ottomans knew that they would not be able to breach the chain in a conventional way, so they attached wheels on their ships and pulled them over land and into the sea.
Constantine made another attempt to negotiate for peace with Mehmed, but the sultan refused. Mehmed was simply too determined to wrest Constantinople away from the Byzantines. In the weeks that followed, the Turkish bombardment of Constantinople intensified. They finally breached the city walls on the 29th of May 1453. The Turks attacked the city in full force so that even Constantine XI himself joined the battle and died in 1453. Many of Byzantine soldiers and residents also died with him. The domination of the Eastern Romans in Constantinople started with an emperor named Constantine in AD 324. In 1453, the Eastern Roman Empire went out with a bang with a Constantine on the throne, too.
Mehmed entered the city via the gate of St. Romanus on the morning of May 29, 1453. It took him 54 days of unrelenting siege to capture the city. His visit to the Hagia Sofia and its later conversion to a mosque meant that the city was fully in the hands of Muslims. The Byzantine Empire ended, but Mehmed was not yet done. Since his people now saw him as a capable and independent ruler, he immediately ordered his father’s old vizier Halil Pasha to be executed.
Picture by: Fausto Zonaro – http://www.worldvisitguide.com/oeuvre/O0025022.html, Public Domain, Link
Barbaro, Nicolo. “The Siege of Constantinople in 1453.” De Re Militari. Accessed December 28, 2016. http://deremilitari.org/2016/08/the-siege-of-constantinople-in-1453-according-to-nicolo-barbaro/.
Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. New York: Basic Books, 2006.
Mikaberidze, Alexander. Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic world: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011.