The City of Constantinople
was the capital of what is now known by historians as the "Byzantine"
empire. This was a direct successor of The Roman Empire
, and as such is sometimes called the Eastern Roman Empire. The Byzantines were known for their preservation of some of the "Lore of the Ancients,"
including technological achievements, high literacy and a reputation for artistic craftsmanship, having innate advantages due to their superior political stability. They were also strong defenders of Greek Orthodox Christianity
. They were a potent military force; not as exotic as a stereotypically medieval Proud Warrior Race
, but quite professional with a well-earned reputation for strategic and political skill. While seldom strong enough to think of expansion, the Byzantine Empire managed to endure for several centuries. However, Constantinople slowly fell into decline. In the 1200's the Fourth Crusade captured and pillaged
the city. They occupied Constantinople for several years until the city was retaken in a coup by the Greek warlord Michael Palaiologos who declared himself The Emperor
of the restored Byzantine Empire, now effectively little more then a Land of One City
. There was for a few generations a minor Renaissance in the City, but its time was soon to come to an end.
In the meantime more Turkish migrants
arrived from the steppelands to set themselves up as "ghazis" (something of a cross between holy warriors and brigands; "Islamic cossacks" if you will). Eventually they took the service of the chieftain Osman and formed what would become the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans expanded and conquered territory until they surrounded Constantinople. An attempt was made to conquer the city but it was frustrated by the coincidental arrival of the Mongol/Turk Timur the Lame (aka Tamurlane) on the other side of the Ottoman Empire. It would be left to Mehmet II, later known as The Conqueror, to finish the job.
The Ottoman forces available outnumbered the entire population of the City, let alone the tiny garrison of soldiers. However the walls of Constantinople were among the most formidable in the world. For this reason many of Mehmet's advisors counseled against the campaign. However Mehmet plodded on. There was little prospect of aid from the West although there was some which distinguished itself. Still, the city refused to submit
. In addition to their vast numbers, the Ottomans also had massive siege cannons at their disposal; this was one of the first major campaigns that used gunpowder. Despite all these advantages, Constantinople was a tough nut to crack. Assault after assault was repealed. The Turks even dragged a number of galleys across land to dominate the harbor in a maneuver that is famed as a Crowning Moment of Awesome
. Finally the Turks breeched the walls and swarmed into the city. The last Emperor, ironically named Constantine XInote
, died fighting
. As was customary the Turks sacked
much of the city but fortunately the layout of the neighborhoods allowed many of the citizens to barricade themselves long enough to negotiate reasonably favorable terms of surrender. After this Constantinople became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The city was virtually depopulated after the conquest, but rapidly recovered, and would once again obtain its former status as the world's largest city.
Contrary to popular belief, the Ottomans did not rename the city as Istanbul
. Although the city was referred to as Istanbul by the Turks even before the conquest of 1453, in most official doctrines, the city was referred to as the Turkified version of Constantinople (Konstantiniyye). Istanbul did not become the official name for the city until 1923, several years after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Depictions in fiction:
- The Emperor's Winding Sheet by Jill Paton Walsh. A children's version of the siege from the point of view of an English boy who happens to be serving as a page to Emperor Constantine.
Tropes displayed in the event include :
- BFG: The Turkish bombards. The largest of which called The Basilica had to be wheeled around on a carriage pulled by 40 cattle and crewed by 200 men. It was so loud that the defenders had to issue warnings to the populace to always keep their ear plugs handy so no one would die of fright or women wouldn't miscarry.
- David Versus Goliath: Except this time Goliath won.
- Despair Event Horizon: Giovanni Giustiniani being wounded, by either a crossbow bolt or a cannonball, and subsequently retreating. It was the event that led to Constantine's Dying Moment of Awesome below.
- Downer Ending: From the Byzantines' point of view.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: From the Byzantines' point of view. This was the last gasp of The Roman Empire and hell did they live up to the reputation of the original version.
- In fact, it was a great deal more awesome than the event which is often pointed to as the death of the Western Roman Empire: the abdication of the emperor Romulus Augustulus to Odoacer.
- Constantine XI, the final Emperor of Constantinople, had his own. Seeing that the fight was hopeless, he is said to have cast aside his imperial raiments and personally lead his retainers for one final suicide attack. For this, he remains a hero to the Greeks even to this day.
- The last charge of the Byzantine Army, when 1,000 Greek soldiers hurled themselves into a force of over 100,000 Turks to try and buy some time for people fleeing the impending sack of the city.
- Eagle Squadron: a few Venetian, Genoan, and Papal troops served as this.
- Fire-Forged Friends: The native Greek Orthodox and foreign Catholic defenders held a joint service in the Hagia Sophia the night before the fall of the city.
- The Glory That Was Rome: The Byzantines, sort of. An Alternative Character Interpretation is that They Were Hellas. Constantine considered his country a continuation of both.
- Hired Guns: A more-literal-than-most example can be found in Orban, the man who forged the cannons that breached the city walls. Notably, he had originally offered his services to the Byzantines, but was turned down for asking too high a price.
- Istanbul Not Constantinople : This is the reason why it is Istanbul and not Constantinople. Any questions?
- Actually, "Istanbul" predates the Turkish conquest, and "Constantinople" or its Turkish variant ("Konstantiniye") remained the official name until the 20th century.
- King in the Mountain: Constintine became yet another one of these.
- The Lancer: Giovanni Giustiniani came to help defend the empire that his namesake Justinian The Great once ruled.
- Last Stand
- Living Relic: several refugees set themselves up in Venice; the knowledge they took with them helped encourage the Italian Renaissance.
- Rousing Speech: Constantine gave one hours before the final assault, and the historian Gibbon called it a worthy funeral oration for the Roman Empire. "Animals may run from animals, but you are men, and worthy heirs of the great heroes of Ancient Greece and Rome."
- The Siege
- Slave Mooks: The Janissaries collected from Balkan Christian peasants. It was a Janissary that was first past the wall according to tales.
- Turks with Troops: Lots and Lots of troops.
- Urban Warfare
- Warrior Prince: Mehmet and Constantine.
- Little known fact: Vlad the Impaler fought there as well, enlisted under a different name within the Wallachian contingent sent by the then-current ruler to help the Byzantines. He had personal reasons to be there (getting his wayward younger brother out of the Sultan's clutches), but has actively fought in several smaller battles, and did guard duty on the city walls. He got rid of a couple of young rivals for the throne while he was there, as well. He also knew when to call it quits and got out of there just in time, by disguising himself as a Turk.
- Weapon of Mass Destruction: Turkish siege guns
- We Have Reserves: The Turks had lots of reserves.
- Very much inverted by the Byzantines, who after having their empire stand for 1,000 years managed to muster exactly 4,973 able-bodied men to fight. Including monks.