The fall of Constantinople
The young Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet II, decides upon the final elimination of the Byzantine "Empire" -
which is now effectively reduced to Constantinople itself and the Despotate (Province) of Morea in the Peloponnese.
Constantine XI Dragases Palaiologos is the last Byzantine Emperor, strictly speaking the last Roman Emperor,
in an unbroken political tradition stretching back to Augustus, almost 1,500 years earlier.
Constantine had been proclaimed Emperor at Mistra (capital of the Despotate of Morea) in 1449 and had
precious little time to prepare for the Turkish assault. For the defence of Constantinople he has a small army of just over 8,000 men -
3,000 of them foreigners, including, ironically enough, contingents from Genoa and Venice, the two great Italian maritime cities
who had done a considerable amount of damage to the Empire over the previous three centuries.
The defenders, outnumbered at least 10 to 1 by Mehmetís army, put up an extraordinarily brave and effective defence -
differences between Latin and Greek are forgotten in the last few desperate days of the Empire.
Finally, in the early hours of Tuesday, 29 May 1453, the Turks launch wave after wave of attackers
against Constantinopleís land walls. Turkish soldiers force their way in through a small gate and organised Byzantine
resistance finally collapses. Constantine and most of his Byzantine soldiers die fighting along and around the walls.
The aftermath of the City's fall is rivalled only by that of the Fourth Crusade.
Mehmet, who is later to make Constantinople the capital of his own great empire, is a dynamic and ruthless
21-year-old. After touring the Cityís ruined Great Palace, he is moved to speak a few lines by a Persian poet:
"The spider weaves the curtains in the palace of the Caesars;
The owl calls the watches in the towers of Afrasiab ...."