The fall of Constantinople, also known as the conquest of Constantinople, was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire by the Ottomans on 29 May 1453 after a 53-day siege which had begun on 6 April. This event marked the end of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of the Ottoman Empire.
Founded in 324 CE by Roman Emperor Constantine I, Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Over the centuries, this city faced countless sieges due to its strategic location bridging Europe and Asia, which made it a highly coveted prize for ambitious rulers. Nevertheless, Constantinople had remarkable defences, including its advantageous maritime position, naval fleet, the secret weapon of the Greek Fire, and the impregnable Theodosian Walls, which were a triple row of fortifications built during the reign of Theodosius II. These had thwarted all previous attacks, rendering the city virtually invincible.
However, by the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire had greatly declined, leaving Constantinople as the last stronghold of Byzantine power. At this critical moment, the Ottoman Empire set its sights on the city. Despite unsuccessful attempts to conquer it in 1394 and 1444, the Ottomans, having triumphed over several Crusader armies, emerged as a formidable force. With the defeat of the Crusaders at Varna in 1444 CE, the Byzantines found themselves standing alone against the Ottoman advance. Then, Sultan Mehmed II, resolved to sweep away the Byzantine Empire and amassed an army of approximately 60,000 to 80,000 soldiers.
In response to the imminent threat, Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI mustered a defence force of roughly 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers, along with a small contingent of foreign mercenaries. However, lacking substantial support from Western powers, which were disappointed with the Byzantine Empire's reluctance to unite with the Church, the Byzantines faced overwhelming odds in terms of manpower, naval resources, and weaponry. Furthermore, Mehmed II possessed a crucial advantage that previous besiegers had lacked: cannons.
On 2 April 1453, the Ottoman army assembled at the city walls of Constantinople and on 5 April, Mehmed sent a demand for immediate surrender to the Byzantine emperor. However, he received no reply. On 6 April, the Ottoman army began its siege by bombarding the city. The onslaught went on for six weeks and even though the Byzantines fought valiantly, they were severely outnumbered.
Time was running out for the city but, then, an unexpected turn of events provided a momentary respite. Back in Asia Minor, Mehmed faced several revolts as his subjects became unruly while he was abroad. For this reason, Mehmed offered Constantine a deal: pay tribute and he would withdraw. The emperor refused, prompting Mehmed to inform his troops that upon capturing Constantinople, they could freely plunder one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
On May 29, the Ottomans launched a massive assault, breaching the city walls and unleashing chaos within Constantinople. It was during this tumultuous moment that Constantine was killed, although, as he had discarded any indications of his status to avoid his body being used as a trophy, the details of his demise remain uncertain.
Meanwhile, rape, pillage, and destruction began, prompting many inhabitants to commit suicide rather than be subject to the horrors of capture and slavery. Around 4,000 people were killed and over 50,000 were shipped off as slaves. Numerous art treasures were lost, books were burned, and anything with a Christian message was destroyed. In the afternoon, Mehmed entered the city, called an end to the pillaging and declared that the Hagia Sophia church be immediately converted into a mosque. This act symbolized the end of Constantinople's twelve-century role as a bastion of Christianity.
The fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, which had survived for over a thousand years since the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Moreover, the city's capture and subsequent conversion into the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, signified the rise of the Ottoman Empire as a dominant force in the region.
With the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottomans gained control over vital trade routes, putting significant strain on European powers. The fear of Ottoman expansion led to increased tensions and ultimately influenced European exploration and the quest for new trade routes to the East, which played a crucial role in the Age of Discovery. Additionally, the capture of Constantinople led to a massive influx of Byzantine scholars and intellectuals into Western Europe, which significantly influenced the Renaissance and the intellectual development of Europe. Under Ottoman rule, Istanbul flourished as a cosmopolitan hub, blending Eastern and Western influences.
Despite the survival of Byzantine culture, the fall of Constantinople constituted a significant milestone in world history. It marked the conclusion of the ancient Roman Empire and severed the final connection between the medieval and ancient eras.
- byzantine empire
- ottoman empire
- constantine xi
- mehmed ii
- theodosius ii
- constantine i