Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Fall of Constantinople and the End of the “Middle Ages"

The Fall of Constantinople and the End of the “Middle Ages"

      On this day in 1453 the city of Constantinople, and with it the Byzantine Roman Empire, fell to the forces of the Ottoman Empire under Mehmed II.  Refounded as the Eastern capital of the Roman empire in the early years of the 4th Century, it had previously fallen only once, then in 1204 to an army of Western Crusaders. The strength of its walls, especially those on the land side, were legendary. The Hun army under Attila is reputed to have ridden up to the walls, taken a good look and ridden away, knowing they could not take the city.  Since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century, it was the Eastern “Byzantine” Empire that continued the traditions and namesake of the “Roman Empire.”

      Mehmed was able, however, to utilize the still relatively new cannon, but cast at sizes never before seen. A combination of the battering of the city’s walls, siege and the deprivation of supplies, and a city without the necessary military forces to patrol and protect the walls set the stage for its downfall. Only some 7,000 soldiers were availble in the city, many of them mercenaries from Italy. Those forces were stretched even more thinly after the Ottoman forces were able to bring ships into the "Golden Horn" which ran along a portion of the walls.  Now the Ottomans did not sail their ships into the Horn - it was protected by a large chain that blocked the entrance, the chain being supported by barrel floats.   Rather, the ships were beached and pulled up and over the surrounding hills, then relaunched in the Golden Horn. 

       Ultimately the Ottoman forces were able to force entry through a gate left open in the walls through which a wounded Byzantine commander (he himself was from Genoa) had been evacuated. The last of the Byzantine emperors, Constantine XI (who as well enjoyed the title as the Despot of Morea - very Tolkenish), died leading his troops in a final push against the enemy; or at least it is so assumed - the accounts record him leading the troops and his whereabouts are never again reported, his body was never recovered.

      Some scholars treat the Fall of Constantinople as the end of the Middle Ages. An interesting notion, but since scholars can’t agree as to what are the characteristics of the Middle Ages, it is hard to say the age ended as of one point in time or another. Maybe for that reason May 29, 1453 is as good a day as any.

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