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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium


Constantine XI (1449-1453) and the capture of Constantinople


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The territory which recognized the power of the last Byzantine emperor was confined to Constantinople with its nearest environs in Thrace, and the major part of the Peloponnesus or Morea at some distance from the capital, and governed by the Emperor's brothers.

Honesty, generosity, energy, valor, and love of country were Constantine's characteristics, vouched for by many Greek sources of his time and by his own conduct during the siege of Constantinople. An Italian humanist, Francesco Filelfo, who during his stay at Constantinople, knew Constantine personally before his ascension to the throne, in one of his letters calls the Emperor a man of pious and lofty spirit (pio et excelso animo).

Muhammad before ConstantinopleThe strong and terrible adversary of Constantine was Muhammed II, twenty-one years old, who combined rude outbursts of harsh cruelty, blood-thirstiness, and many of the baser vices, with an interest in science, art, and education, energy, and the talents of a general, statesman, and organizer. A Byzantine historian relates that he occupied himself enthusiastically with the sciences, especially astrology, read the tales of the deeds of Alexander of Macedon, Julius Caesar, and the emperors of Constantinople, and spoke five languages besides Turkish. Oriental sources praise his piety, justice, clemency, and protection of scholars and poets. Historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries vary in their estimation of Muhammed II; they range from denying him all positive qualities to acknowledging him as a man of genius. The desire to conquer Constantinople was an obsession with the young sultan, who, as the historian Ducas said, by night and day, going to bed and getting up, within his palace and without, turned over and over in his mind the military actions and means by which he might take possession of Constantinople. He spent sleepless nights drawing on paper the plan of the city and its fortifications, pointing out the places where it could be most easily attacked.

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