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CONSTANTINOPLE  

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

Constantinoupolis

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

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The pictures of both these adversaries survive, those of Constantine Palaeologus on seals and in some later manuscripts, and those of Muhammed II on the medals struck by Italian artists in the fifteenth century in honor of the sultan and in some portraits, particularly one painted by the famous Venetian artist, Gentile Bellini, who spent a short time (in 1479-80) at Constantinople at the end of the reign of Muhammed.

Having decided to deal the final blow to Constantinople, Muhammed set to work with extreme circumspection. First of all, north of the city, on the European shore of the Bosporus, at its narrowest point, he built a powerful stronghold with towers, the majestic remnants of which are still to be seen (Rumeli-Hisar); the guns placed there hurled stone cannon balls which were enormous for the time.

When the erection of the stronghold on the Bosporus was known, there came from the Christian population of the capital, Asia, Thrace, and the islands, from all directions, as Ducas said, exclamations of despair. Now the end of the city has come; now we see the signs of the ruin of our race; now the days of Antichrist are at hand; what is to become of us or what have we to do? ... Where are the saints who protect the city? Another contemporary and eyewitness, who lived through all the horrors of the siege of Constantinople, the author of the precious Journal of the Siege, a Venetian, Nicolo Barbaro, wrote, This fortification is exceedingly strong from the sea, so that it is absolutely impossible to capture it, for on the shore and walls are standing bombards in very great number; on the land side the fortification is also strong, though less so than from the sea. This stronghold put an end to the communication of the capital with the north and the ports of the Black Sea, for all foreign vessels, both on entering and leaving the Bosporus, were intercepted by the Turks, in case of siege Constantinople would be deprived of the supply of corn from the ports of the Black Sea. It was very easy for the Turks to carry out these measures, because, opposite the European stronghold, there towered on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus the fortifications which had been built at the end of the fourteenth century by the Sultan Bayazid (Anatoli-Hisar). Next Muhammed invaded the Greek possessions in Morea, in order to prevent the Despot of Morea from coming to the aid of Constantinople in case of emergency. After these preliminary steps Muhammed, this pagan enemy of the Christian people, to quote Barbaro, began the siege of the great city. Constantine made every possible effort adequately to meet his powerful adversary in the unequal struggle whose result, one may say, was foreordained. The Emperor had all possible corn supplies from the environs of the capital brought into the city and some repairs made on the city walls. The Greek garrison of the city numbered only a few thousands. Seeing the coming fatal danger, Constantine appealed to the West for help; but instead of the desired military support, a Roman cardinal, Greek by origin, Isidore, the former metropolitan of Moscow and participator in the Council of Florence, arrived in Constantinople, and in commemoration of the restored peace between the Eastern and Western churches, celebrated a union service in St. Sophia, which aroused the greatest agitation in the city population. One of the most prominent dignitaries of Byzantium, Lucas Notaras, uttered his famous words, It is better to see in the city the power of the Turkish turban than that of the Latin tiara.

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