Ancient history

The Battle of Constantinople

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 , with its walls pierced by Ottoman siege cannons at the Battle of Constantinople, ended the Byzantine Empire and established the Ottoman Empire as the main threat to Christianity in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe for the next two centuries.
The Byzantine Empire, which was the stronghold of the Christian West against the Arabs and the Turks, had been defeated by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in 1071, and in 1389 their descendants, the Ottoman Turks, defeated a Serb army at Kosovo Polje. In 1400 most of Asia Minor was in the hands of the Ottomans , and it seemed only a matter of time before this previously flourishing imperial capital of a million people would fall to them. Tamerlane's (Timur Lenk, 1336-1405) invasion of Asia Minor and his victory against the Turks at Ankara in 1402 gave the overwhelmed Byzantines a brief respite. In 1422 Sultan Murad II (ruled 1421-1451) besieged the city, but the defenses of Constantinople repulsed him and this governor left the Byzantines alone.

Data of the Battle of Constantinople

  • Who: Sultan Mehmed II Fatih (reigned 1451-1481) besieged Constantinople with an army of 120,000 men, against just 10,000 Greek and Italian Christian defenders under Emperor Constantine XI (reigned 1449-1453).
  • How: The Turks first used huge siege artillery pieces to breach the Theodosian Wall, which protected the city.
  • Where: The city of Constantinople was the Byzantine imperial capital (303-1453) located on a peninsula next to the Bosphorus, the Sea of ​​Marmara and facing the Golden Horn, in what is now Turkey.
  • When: From April 5 to May 29, 1453.
  • Why: The Ottoman Turks had extended their empire in all directions and wanted to make Constantinople their capital and eliminate this Christian stronghold.
  • Result: The city was taken with great bloodshed, and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

Mehmed The Conqueror

Murad died in 1451, leaving the throne to his 19-year-old son, Mehmed (Mohamed) II, who, for the next 30 years, was a scourge to his Muslim and Christian neighbors. Mehmed wanted to prove that he was an ardent ghazi (holy warrior) by conquering Constantinople and all of Asia Minor and the Balkans.
The key to success in the siege of Constantinople was the ability to breach the massive 5.7km land wall of Theodosius, with its moats, towers and triple line of defense.
walls, walls that no army had managed to overcome in more than a millennium! However, Mehmed II had found a renegade Christian, Urban of Transylvania, willing to build a huge cannon 8 meters long, with a caliber of 20 cm, which could fire a solid stone cannon ball weighing one ton. more than 1.5 km. Urban's huge cannon was finished and ready for inspection by the very pleased Mehmed in January 1453.
Unlike his father, Mehmed never fulfilled the treaties signed with the Christians. He occupied the Byzantine territories across the Bosphorus and cut off the city's grain supplies from Romania and southern Russia, vital to its population. In five short months (April-August 1452). Mehmed had built a fort called Boghaz-Kesen (aptly called the Cutthroat) on the Bosporus, the sole purpose of which was to prevent supplies from reaching Constantinople by sea. In November a Genoese ship, ignoring Mehmed's blockade, was sunk with a single shot from one of the huge guns inside the Boghaz-Kesen, and her captain, Antonio Rizzo, was impaled, while the men of him were executed. Mehmed had warned the infidels not to test his severely limited patience, and that the Byzantines were now at his mercy.


The last nails in the coffin from Constantinople arrived during the winter of 1452-1453. First, the Catholic West stopped helping Orthodox Christians against the common enemy. Admittedly, the pope made desperate, if ineffective, efforts to mobilize support for a crusade against the deadly Turkish threat; however, Genoa, which owned the fortified suburb of Pera across the Golden Horn, refused to give up its lucrative but dubious 'neutrality'. Only Venice, declared enemy of Genoa, with large and vulnerable Balkan colonies, proved willing and able to help Constantinople.
In the doomed city itself such a mercenary spirit did not prevail, and Christians of Slavic, Greek or Italian origin buried the hatchet before the relentless approach of the enemy. Constantine XI, who had come to the throne just four years earlier, proved not only a great orator but also an inspired leader:he pointed out that they were all in the same boat, that they could expect no mercy from Mehmed, in the face of the ghastly fate of the Genoese crew, and that the West might help them after all.
They were true words, though of little comfort to the defenders, outnumbered and now surrounded, with barely 10,000 armed men. Mehmed's elite guard, the Janissaries, alone numbered 12,000 strong, and his entire army numbered ten times that number (estimates vary between 100,000 and 150,000 soldiers). What was far worse was that Mehmed had managed, with enormous effort, to create a veritable fleet of galleys - the first in Ottoman history - built and manned by Christian Balkan renegades, which, to the dismay of the defenders, penetrated the South Sea (Marmara) in early March 1453. Now the sea wall of Marmara was also under threat and needed a garrison from Constantine's tiny army.

Begin the siege

The first Ottoman troops, the vanguard, appeared under the land wall on April 1 , and at a signal from the
Constantine closed the doors, the wooden bridges
over the moat they were burned and the walls were garrisoned. Constantinople was now clearly under siege and cut off from the rest of the world. Five days later Mehmed arrived with the main army and camped under the walls. The Byzantines were masters of fortification and had reinforced the massive land wall where it was weakest, such as at Blachernae. They had left the sea walls along the Sea of ​​Marmara and the Golden Horn with a relatively weak garrison, as intelligence reports told them that Mehmed would concentrate on the land wall.
On April 9 the Ottoman fleet made an unsuccessful attempt to break through the barrier that stretched across the Golden Horn from the sea wall to Pera, while the army attacked two outlying forts, Therapia and Studius . They both lasted two days. Under express orders from Mehmed, the defenders were impaled, as a warning to the defenders of Constantinople that the same ghastly fate awaited them. Mehmed's barbarism only served to increase the determination of the besieged Christians to fight to the death rather than capitulate. A third fort, on the island of Prikipo, saw the garrison burned alive rather than capitulate.
Three days later, the Ottoman artillery began a relentless bombardment of the land wall, which continued for six weeks. Urbano's great cannon fired seven times a day, though the damage it caused was easily repaired by diligent defenders. On April 18 the wall that crossed the Lycus Valley, the weakest point of the land wall's defenses, had collapsed, but the Byzantines, under the command of the Italian general Giustiani Longo They fixed it on time. Having ordered the ditch to be filled, Mehmed launched his men into the first assault, which cost him 400 victims. The Christians, heavily armed foot knights under the command of Longo, suffered no casualties. Taking Constantinople was obviously not going to be a cakewalk, and the defenders' morale was revived.

Turkish Janissary

Founded in 1330, this corps of Turkish slave soldiers, formed from converted Christian boys received as tribute and prisoners of war, was essential to the military success of the Ottoman state and continued to be a model of discipline in 16th-century Western armies. This infantryman is armed with the curved scimitar
characteristic of the time and with a short bow. Janissary archers first proved their worth at the Battle of Nicopolis (1396). when they were deployed against cavalry to great effect behind stakes in a skirmishing formation.

Italian reinforcements

Two days later, a small fleet of well-armed Italian heavy merchant ships forced the blockade of the Ottoman fleet with little difficulty, using Greek artillery and fire. His arrival with much-needed news and cereal boosted morale even further. Mehmed, who had witnessed the defeat in person, was so furious that he fired Balthoghlu on the spot and demoted him to common seaman.
The defenders' luck ran out when Mehmed managed to move his galleys on rollers across the land side of Pera to the Golden Horn. Constantinople was now threatened from the north as well. A night attack by fire ships, valiantly led but ineptly executed, failed, leaving Genoese and Venetians accusing each other of treason. Constantine XI was appalled at the behavior of the Italians, telling them 'The war before our doors is enough for us. For God's sake, don't start a war with each other."
On May 7 and 12, the Turks launched two unsuccessful night assaults against the Lycus platoon. Mehmed was now disheartened and his grand vizier, Halil Pasha, urged him to abandon the siege. Mehmed scolded the old man violently, telling him that he would get the "Apple of Rum" (that is, Constantinople) whatever the cost or time it took. A major threat to a besieged city or castle at this time was tunnels. Here the Turks, thanks to the experience of the Serbs, had the upper hand and had begun to dig a series of tunnels to undermine and blow up the land wall. To their fortune, the Byzantines had a brilliant chief of mine operations, a Scottish Crusader knight, Sir John Grant, whose initiatives to flood Turkish mines neutralized these efforts.
If this wasn't enough, the defenders launched a surprise night attack on May 18 and left the Turkish siege towers ablaze. Five days later the defenders captured the Serbian minemaster, who revealed the location and depth of the remaining Turkish tunnels. This good news was tempered by the arrival of a lone Venetian galleon with the news that the pope had failed to muster a relief army.

Bad omens

On May 23 and 24, certain natural phenomena served to undermine the morale of the city . There was a persistent fear that the city would be lost once the West stopped succouring the defenders. There was also an ancient prophecy about the fall of Constantinople when the ruler was named Constantine, and the then emperor was named Constantine XI. During the procession of the sacred icon of the Virgin, it was carelessly dropped to the ground, amid gasps of disbelief and horror. Once the icon was collected and the procession continued on its way, it was interrupted by a sudden flood. During the next day, May 24, the city was enveloped in a dense blanket of fog, something unheard of in that warm month and which, the shocked Byzantines whispered among themselves, was God's punishment for the alliance of the Orthodox with the Romans. Western Catholic schismatics.
Morale among the besiegers was not much better, and again Halil Pasha forced Mehmed to accept one last massive assault during the night of 28/29 May. If he failed, then the sultan would agree to lift the siege once and for all. At dusk on May 28 Mehmed and his generals had finished all preparations as the defenders prepared for what would prove to be the final battle, the Battle of Constantinople.

The final assault

At 01:30, some 20,000 irregulars (bashi-bazouks ) threw themselves over the land wall, though after two hours of merciless fighting the heavily armored defenders had left nothing but heaps of dead Turks on the ground. The regulars of the Anatolian army also failed, and the assaults against the sea wall were equally a fiasco.
Then, through treachery or carelessness on the part of the defenders, some Turks found that the small gate of Kerkaporta, between the section of Blachemae palace wall and the main wall of Theodosius, was ajar.
Wasting no time, the Turks, by the hundreds, penetrated between the first and second walls, where the few defenders were unable to stem the tide.
During the fighting on the main outer wall, Longo was mortally wounded and decided to have himself evacuated to the port, with disastrous results. The Genoese, who had fought until then with exceptional
determination and bravery, they saw their commander leave on a stretcher and panicked, also fleeing to the port. Constantine's desperate pleas for Longo to stay went unheeded, and the Venetians howled that those Genoese dogs had betrayed them.
By this time the Turks had managed to open the main gate and rushed through it; the small groups of defenders, including Constantine himself, clad in his armor, were knocked to the ground. The Catalans fought with rude Hispanic fatalism, with the certainty that fighting the infidel guaranteed them a quick path to paradise.


Some 4,000 defenders lay dead, and it was claimed that most of the population were enslaved, while churches, monasteries and homes were burned and razed to the ground or desecrated. Mehmed immediately converted the Hagia Sophia into a great mosque. The fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, and established the Ottoman Turks as a threat to Europe that lasted until their unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1683.