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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

Political and social conditions in the Empire


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In 1437, a Spanish traveler, Pero Tafur, was graciously treated at Constantinople by Emperor John VIII, When, on his way back from the Crimea and Trebizond, Pero Tafur visited Constantinople again, the Despot Dragas, John's brother, was governing there, for John himself at that time was in Italy. Tafur remarked that the church they called Valayerna (Blachernae) is today so burnt that it cannot be repaired; that the dockyard must have been magnificent; even now it is sufficient to house the ships. The Emperor's Palace must have been very magnificent, but now it is in such state that both it and the city show well the evils which the people have suffered and still endure... The city is sparsely populated... The inhabitants are not well clad, but sad and poor, showing the hardship of their lot which is, however, not so bad as they deserve, for they are a vicious people, steeped in sin. Perhaps it would not be amiss to add this statement of Tafur: The Emperor's state is as splendid as ever, for nothing is omitted from the ancient ceremonies, but, properly regarded, he is like a Bishop without a See.

After the Turkish and Serbian conquests in the Balkan peninsula in the second half of the fourteenth century, Constantinople with its nearest possessions in Thrace was surrounded by the dominions of the Turks and could hardly maintain by sea, relations with the territories which still composed a part of the Empire: Thessalonica, Thessaly, and the Despotat of Morea. These territories therefore became almost independent of the central government. Under these new conditions, when the sea route from the northern shore of the Black Sea, very important for the corn supply of the capital, was cut off by the Turks, the island of Lemnos, in the north of the Archipelago, became for a time a granary for Constantinople.

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