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With the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 2004, the collapse of the Byzantine Empire began. After 1430, the Empire was comprised solely of Constantinople, with its precincts, and the Despotate of Morea. In Constantinople, the attempts of John Palaiologos to get help from the West, via the union of the Churches, created a dreadful antithesis between those for and those against the union. During that same period of time, the ascension of the uncompromising Mehmed II to the Ottoman throne of his conciliatory father, Murad II, signified the implementation of Murad’s obsession, which was the conquest of Constantinople, something which Mehmed achieved after a siege of 55 days. The Fall of Constantinople occurred on Tuesday, 29 May 1453. During the 10th and 11th centuries, conflicts with the Bulgarians, who had been Christianized since 864, showed the Empire’s leaders
that a religion in common does not result in a deterring factor in conflicts. Indeed, the final schism between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople, in 1054, drove the ties between Christian countries even further apart. Thereafter, the West began to consider Byzantium as an unfriendly state, while the Empire had become particularly suspicious of Rome. In 2004, with the blessing of Pope Innocent III and under the command of the Italian Count, Boniface Monferrat, the West organized the Fourth Crusade. The Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolos transported 40,000 soldiers to Gallipoli via ships, directly to the walls of Constantinople, where they made their final attack
on 12 April 1204. The Franks’ (the West) capture of the capital was accompanied by an inconceivable surge of looting and slaughter, the extent of which obligated Pope John Paul II, some 800 years later, to make a public apology to Orthodox Christians while he was on an official visit to Greece. The looting that had occurred was unheard of; whatever valuables that could be transported – including the four horses that had stood on the façade of the Church of St. Mark and the sacred vessels, which had been in that same church, as well as the enormously heavy marble lion, which had stood at the entrance of the Gate of Arsenale – were transported from Constantinople. The recapture of Constantinople under the forces of Michael VIII Palaiologos signified, among other things, the definitive surrender of Asia Minor into the hands of the Turkish tribe.
In approximately 1340, only a few seaside cities near the capital had remained under Byzantine control. With the colonization of Gallipoli in 1354, the Ottomans had set foot in Europe, and had, thereby, revealed their true intentions. Thus, after having conquered Adrianople, Sultan Murad I made it the Ottoman capital in 1368, replacing Prousa (Brusa), the first Ottoman capital. When John VIII Palaiologos ascended to the throne in 1425, the Byzantine Empire had fallen to its lowest level. In 1430, after a harsh siege, Thessaloniki was conquered and its population was either slaughtered or enslaved. That same year, Ioannina was surrendered by its own inhabitants, in order to avoid the tribulations that had been visited upon the inhabitants of Thessaloniki. While all that was occurring in the North,
in the South, the Despotate of Morea had returned almost all of the Peloponnese into the hands of the Byzantines. The main leader was Constantine Palaiologos, who was one of the despots of Mystra and the brother of the Byzantine Emperor, John Palaiologos. The Emperor was certain that the preservation of the Byzantine Empire, even in the meagerness of its size, could be achieved solely with the assistance of the West. That was why he decided to press for the Union of the Churches, which, he hoped, would bring about the formation of a new crusade against the Ottomans. After a long period of negotiations, Pope Eugene IV invited the Emperor to bring a delegation from Constantinople for a synod of the two Churches to Italy. Although John would have preferred that the synod take place in Constantinople,
he agreed that they go to Italy. Thus, with the financial support of Cosimo de’ Medici, on 9 April 1438, in Ferrara, the discussions between the representatives of Pope Eugene IV and those of the Eastern Orthodox Church began. In order to improve the level of the Byzantine representatives, Emperor John raised three well-educated monks to the rank of Metropolitan: Bessarion of Trebizond was appointed Metropolitan of Nicaea; Isidore of Kiev to Metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia, and the theologian, Mark Eugenikos to Metropolitan of Ephesus. To them he added three secular philosophers: George Scholarios, George Amiroutzes and George Gemistos Plethon. In the beginning of 1439, the work of the synod was transferred to Florence, where, after long and difficult dialogue, the Union of the Churches was signed and the associated documents were
announced in the Cathedral of Florence, in Latin by Cardinal Cesarini, and in Greek by the Metropolitan of Nicaea, Bessarion. John VIII died in 1448. He was succeeded to the throne by his brother, Constantine Palaiologos, aged 45, who, at the time, had been in Mystra. Therefore, two high-ranked officers brought the imperial crown to Mystra. There, on 6 January 1449, Constantine was crowned by the local Metropolitan. That coronation was the first to take place outside of Constantinople and without the Patriarch in a thousand years. When Constantine Palaiologos arrived, via his galleys, in Constantinople, it was 12 March. Despite his undeniable capabilities, it was impossible for Constantine to bring about the salvation of the city,
directly across from which there was a Genoan colony in Peran, which had remained neutral. Any efforts on the part of Constantine to get their support on behalf of the pope in implementing the decision of the synod in Florence, were met with the cruelest refusals of those opposed to the union, who pointedly declared that they would prefer to see a Turkish turban in the middle of the street rather than a Roman cowl. Sultan Murad II died in Adrianople in February of 1451. He was succeeded on the throne by his capable and ambitious son, Mehmed II in Magnesia. As soon as he crossed the Dardanelles, Mehmed stopped for two days in Gallipoli, for the purpose of attending a befitting reception that had been organized. The new Sultan immediately indicated his intentions. His first and greatest goal was the conquest of Constantinople.
During the winter of 1451, he sent orders to all of his dominions that each amass 1000 skilled builders and a corresponding number of laborers, who were to report to the narrowest point of the Bosporous on the European side. There, he ordered the demolition of churches and monasteries with the aim of using those building materials for the construction of a castle. The construction work began in the spring of 1452 and was completed at the end of August, 1452. By building Rumelihisari Castle, the Sultan accomplished the actual blockade of the city from the outside world. Afterwards, Mehmed personally studied the fortification of Constantinople. In the meanwhile, he gave orders that every ship that crossed the Bosporus was to stop at the castle for inspection. Any ship that did not halt was to be sunk.
In fact, in order to facilitate the implementation of his threats, he positioned three large cannons. In the beginning of November, two Venetian ships, coming from the Black Sea, refused to halt. In spite of the endeavors to sink the ships, they escaped, something which another Venetian ship did not manage to do, fifteen days later. That ship was sunk and all of its crew was transported to Didymoteichio, where the Sultan was living at the time. He ordered the decapitation of the entire crew, with the exception of the captain, who was condemned to impalement. The Byzantines’ efforts to effect somewhat of a union with the West with the goal of obtaining auxiliary forces for the defense of the city, which, indeed, had the support of Pope Nicholas V, who, in 1447, had succeeded Eugene IV, were transmitted continuously
throughout 1452, but with paltry results. In the end, only the ethnically Greek, former Metropolitan of Kiev and then-current cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, Isidore, by command of the Pope, visited the islands of the Aegean, inviting the islanders to join the volunteer army. The army, which he managed, by great efforts, to amass numbered, all together, 200 men. They arrived in Constantinople at the end of October 1452. With the acquiescence of Patriarch Gregory, the Emperor organized a Divine Liturgy in the Church of St. Sophia for 12 December, during which was heard the following: “Long live Pope Nicholas, Patriarch, of Rome!” That incident enraged those opposed to the Union of Churches. As they were under the leadership of Loukas Notaras and George Scholarios,
who, by then, had become a monk with the name, Gennadios and shuttered himself in a cell in the Monastery of Pantocratoras, they went to extremes. They even refused to allow the priests who were celebrating the Liturgy on that 12th of December to distribute the Divine Gifts. The atmosphere which dominated the capitol city in the dawn of 1453 was one of deep division and a lack of patriotism and political wisdom amongst the members of the noble and wealthy classes. The Emperor began to prepare the city for the siege. Supplies of all sorts were accumulated in the national repositories and the churches ceaselessly appealed to Christian leaders for help. The issue of water did not constitute a serious problem because Constantinople had many subterranean reservoirs and cisterns, like the one next to the Church of St. Sophia, which is known as the “Sunken Palace”
because it is supported by hundreds of columns which had been transported there from ancient temples. The city of Constantinople occupies a peninsula which has a triangular shape. The walls of land which extended from the district of Blachernae to the Golden Horn, and until the Stoudios district located near the Sea of Marmara, were seven kilometers long, and surrounded by an exterior trench and then, separated into exterior and interior walls. The five and a half kilometer-long walls along the length of the Golden Horn were single and stretched to the edge of the ancient acropolis, beneath where today’s Topkapi Palace is located. From that point, at the entrance to the Golden Horn, and along the length of the Sea of Marmara, the walls were nine kilometers long,
and again, single. Vertically, they stretched almost to the sea, and had two fortified ports and eleven gates. Meanwhile, all the men that were able to take part in the defense of the city were conscripted. At the same time, since the national treasury was depleted, Constantine proceeded to obtain an unavoidable loan from the churches and the monasteries. Finally, in March 1453, he closed off the Gulf of the Golden Horn with chains in order to prevent the Ottoman ships from entering it. By April, many volunteer defenders had arrived in the capitol city. The famous hero of the seas, Giovanni Justinian Longo, a member of a powerful Genoese family, which then ruled Chios, had already arrived, directly from Chios, on 26 January
with two ships and 700 soldiers, supplied and armed at his own expense. Quite a number of Roman volunteers from Ancona, Venice, and Greeks from Crete, along with five Venetian ships, which were provided by the Venetian community of the city, and members of the Genoese and Catalan communities were present during those dreadful days at the land walls and sea walls of Constantinople. The defenders of the city never numbered more than 8,000. The sources of information regarding the besiegers are contradictory. The most probable is that their total number was approximately 160,000 men. Even their ships had been estimated at 150, while the fleet of those besieged stood at 25, which were manned, however, by well-experienced crews. For that, however, the Turks had an absolute
advantage – their artillery. In mid-February 1453, Mehmed II ordered a troop of 10,000 men, mostly cavalry, to accompany the enormous cannon, which he had ordered Orban to construct, to Constantinople. The massive cannon was more than eight meters long and it weighed about 20 tons. Its transportation required 60 pairs of oxen and 400 men, 200 on either side of the carriage, in order to support it. The cannon arrived outside the city wall in the beginning of April. A few days prior, on 23 March, the Sultan had set off towards Constantinople, with 12,000 janissaries and numerous cavalry. In March 1453, ships of all kinds
began to gather in Gallipoli. Most of them were new and had been hastily built in Aegean shipyards. There were also older ships which had been repaired. The renegade governor of Gallipoli, Suleiman Baltoghlu, who was of Bulgarian origin, was appointed as admiral of the fleet. The units that arrived were comprised of Serbians, Hungarians, and even Greeks. All were deployed according to the detailed plan which had been drafted by the Sultan himself. On the right flank of the Turkish deployment were soldiers from Asia Minor, under the command of Mustafa Pasha. The left flank was comprised of soldiers from the Balkans, under the command of Turahan, Bey of Roumeli. Behind the center of the deployment were powerful reserve troops, while infantry and artillery units, under the command of Zagan Pasha and Karaca Pasha Bey,
were positioned in the region around Galata. The siege began on 5 April 1453. The tent of the Sultan was placed to the right of the Gate of St. Romanos, across from which the massive cannon of Orban had been placed. The rest of his cannons, of which there were some 70, were placed at fourteen other points and immediately began the work of demolishing the walls. Justinian, along with 3,000 men was deployed opposite the Sultan. Nearby, the Emperor had also stationed his command post. During the first days of the siege, the Ottomans plundered and, in some cases, also destroyed villages, including Therapia (Tarabya] and Silivria (Silivri), which were located near the city. In the meanwhile, the fleet of Baltoghlu was dispatched to seize the Princes’ Islands.
The first three, Proti, Antigone and Halki, surrendered without a fight. After a siege, the fort of Prinkipo was seized, and its 30 heroic defenders were slaughtered. On April 12, the Turkish fleet entered the Bosporus and anchored at Diplokoinio, where, today, the Dolmabahçe Palace is located. On that same day, the Ottoman artillery went into action. In the dense artillery smoke, enormous stone cannonballs were launched from the massive cannon positioned a short distance from the walls. They hurled through the air before falling on the walls where they shattered into thousands of pieces. On the other side of the wall, the united defenders, backed by the civilians, worked ceaselessly to repair the walls.
Despite the defenders’ heroic efforts, it was impossible to prevent the destruction of the walls. Thus, on 18 April, in the valley of the River Lycus, part of the exterior wall and two towers of the interior wall collapsed. That collapse gave Mehmed the impression that he could capture the city with a raid. Two hours later, after sunset on 18 April, he gave the order to attack. They failed and in the end, retreated with many casualties. The defenders took courage and gave themselves over, with greater zeal, to repairing the walls. In the beginning of April, the wind blew from the north. The three Genoese galleys, which had been chartered by the pope and which he had loaded with weapons and other supplies, Had been stranded by the wind at Chios.
When the wind blew from the south, in mid-April, they set sail for Constantinople. On the way, they encountered an imperial ship under the Command of Captain Flantanela, which was loaded with wheat from Sicily. Since the Dardanelles were unguarded, as the entire Turkish fleet was in Constantinople, the galleys sailed rapidly to the Sea of Marmara and arrived near the city on the morning of 20 April. At once, almost all of the Turkish fleet set sail from Diplokiovio, with the aim of either destroying or capturing the four ships. The wind was against the Turks; however, the devastating effect of their overwhelming numbers made their success almost certain. The south wind brought the four ships ever closer to the city – and to the Turkish fleet. The defenders of the capitol and its citizens climbed onto the walls in order to watch the uneven battle.
The Sultan did the same thing. At that moment, the wind suddenly stopped and the Turkish ships surrounded the ships, demanding that they take down their sails and surrender. Flantanelas responded with curses. Since the ships had become stuck upon each other, a deadly battle immediately erupted. The historian Kritiovoulos writes, “Beginning, first, with large amphoras filled with water and hanging by ropes, they not only put out fires, but also killed many who stood in their path. At the same time, others, from a higher position, hurled down javelins, spears, and pikes onto the attackers, killing many, while others lobbed stones. Still others used hatchets to chop off the hands of any who tried to board the ships, or clubs to smash the heads of the Turks.” The battle continued for many hours, with enormous causalities for the Turks and relatively few for the Greeks and the Genoese.
The Sultan was so enraged with his fleet’s crews, that he even got to the point of entering the sea on horse, in order to instill a spirit of aggression in them. It was in vain, however, because the four ships, taking advantage of the tailwind, which had started to blow again, as well as of the diversion which had been created by three ships emerging from the Golden Horn, managed to enter the port of the city. On the following day, 21 April, the infuriated Sultan deposed the admiral and had him punished with 100 lashes of the whip. The Sultan was looking for means to limit the action of the fleet imposing the siege, and simultaneously make the blockade of the city tighter. He decided to send many ships from the Bosporus into the Gulf of the Golden Horn, in order to render the chain which sealed the gulf useless, and thereby make the blockade tighter, whilst attacking Constantinople from all sides.
The transfer of ships from the Bosporus to the Golden Horn was a difficult undertaking. However, Mehmed had no problems regarding either human manpower or resources. He therefore ordered a track to be constructed of boards and smeared with grease. On the night of 22 April, the ships were hauled onto the shore with pulleys. Teams of oxen were then harnessed in front of each ship, while groups of men helped out at the more difficult points of the passageway. That was how approximately 70 ships were transferred from Diplokionio to the Golden Horn. In Constantinople, Giacomo Kokos, the captain of a galley from Trebizond, proposed an immediate attack by night be made against the ships, using fire. He, himself took on the operation.
Unfortunately, the delay that occurred and the briefing they gave to the Genoese of Peran, revealed the plan to the Turks, who were then waiting for the attack on the night of 28 April. Thus, Koko’s ship was sunk and most of the crew, including Kokos, was lost. The Sultan, who then had ships in the Golden Horn to protect him, decided to build a bridge over the harbor which stretched precisely to the walls. It was a pontoon bridge, made out of 100 wine barrels tied tightly together. His cannons could, therefore, shoot at the district of Blachernae from another angle. At around 11 on the night of 7 May, the Turks unleashed a savage attack against the walls, attempting, through the use of ladders, to reach the interior wall. The attack lasted for about three hours, and was finally repelled,
with enormous casualties amongst the attackers. At midnight on 12 May, a new raid against the besieged city took place, near the Palace of the Porphyrogennitos. Despite the ferocity of the attackers, the raid ended in their disorderly retreat. Four days later, the attempt of the Turkish fleet to strike the chain which secured the Gulf of the Golden Horn failed. On 17 May, Mehmed next proceeded with a plan to undermine the walls of the city by creating tunnels, which were dug by Albanians and Serbians, who were primarily miners. However, the German engineer, Johannes Grant, by digging counter-mining tunnels and using water and fire (“greek fire”), filled the seven tunnels which the Turks had created. According to sources, with 2,000 dead, the Sultan was forced to abandon the attempt. The Sultan then used yet another invention.
On the morning of 18 May, the defenders were horror-stricken to see an immense wooden tower on wheels standing outside the walls. However, during the night, some defenders had managed to blow it up, making it useless. From the middle of the previous April, a rumor had circulated amongst the city’s inhabitants that a large armada of Venetian ships was nearing the Hellespont (Dardanelles) with the aim of freeing them from the siege. In the beginning of May, Emperor Constantine had sent a swift imperial ship to meet with the Venetian fleet and transmit vital information to its leader. Its return on 23 May filled the besieged people with disappointment, since not a single Venetian ship was in the Aegean. Constantinople, “the Queen of Cities” and home to a 1000-year-old empire, had been left on its own.
At that point in time, Mehmed sent a peace proposal to the Byzantine Emperor, with which he asked that the city be peacefully turned over to him, and “that the Emperor withdraw, with all his possessions, and with all the noblemen and its inhabitants”. However, in the event that Constantine decided to fight to the end, then, the Sultan emphatically pointed out, “You and those with you will lose your life and belongings; the other inhabitants will be taken captive in every part of the world.” The Emperor, in accord with the opinion of the Senate, sent the Sultan the following message: ‘As to surrendering the city to you, it is not for me to decide or for anyone else of its inhabitants. All of us have reached the mutual decision to die of our own free will.” In spite of the extensive destruction they had caused to its walls,
the weakness of the Turks in succeeding to land a fateful blow against the besieged city, the valiant response of the Emperor, as well as the rumors about the imminent arrival of a powerful contingent from the West had negative effects on the morale of the besiegers. The difficult situation in which the Sultan found himself can be seen in the climate that dominated the cabinet of generals and advisors he had summoned on 27 May 1453. The elderly Grand Vizier Halil Pasha advised Mehmed to end the siege and return to Adrianople. Conversely, Zaganos Pasha and most of the generals recommended the continuation of the siege until they achieved the fall of the city. After some hesitancy, Mehmed II complied
with the view of those who were bellicose. He declared 29 May as the beginning of an all-out offensive and ordered that his message be transmitted to the troops with a promise of three days of looting and pillaging. On 28 May, the Sultan inspected his troops for the assault for the following day, while the sounds of thousands of drums and the shouting of the dervishes left no doubt as to what was to occur in the following hours. While that took place at the Turkish camps, the Emperor and his comrades in arms were trying to repair the wall, especially in the area of St. Romanos, using stones, sticks, and even foliage mixed with clay. Afterwards, Constantine participated in a city-wide litany, in order to boost the morale of the people and the soldiers. At the head of the litany was the icon of the All-Holy Mother of God, the Directress.
At the end, he addressed his defenders, who, with one voice, answered, “We will die with our faith in Christ and in our homeland.” From there, he headed to the Church of St, Sophia, where he communed of the Holy Gifts. His next stop was at the Palace of Blachernae, where he asked forgiveness of his family members. He then ended up at the walls, beside his comrades in arms. The attack began on three sides of the city, three to four hours before dawn on Tuesday, 29 May 1453. The assault was started by troops of Turkish irregulars. Many of them were German and Hungarian Christians, fortune-seekers and marauders, who expected to profit
from the plundering. Mehmed sought to strain the small numbers of defenders by using expendable Christians, reserving the more experienced and braver Asian military for the final assault. The irregular troops fastened thousands of ladders onto the exterior walls and those who were more daring began to climb them. However, the defenders knocked down the ladders, fired their arrows, shot their muskets, while not neglecting to empty large quantities of stones onto the heads of the attackers. The large number of casualties amongst the irregulars and the tough resistance they encountered, made them consider a retreat. However, those who attempted to retreat came up against henchmen, waiting for them with cudgels, ready to make them heed and to return them to the battle.
Thus, the battle continued for 1 -2 hours longer, before the irregulars were again forced to retreat – but after an order from the Sultan himself, that time. For a moment, the defenders thought that the attack had failed and that they could rest for a bit. They were exhausted by the days-long siege and the constant, hard work. Even though day had not yet dawned, they quickly realized that units of the Turkish regulars had formed upon the hill of the Gate of St. Romanos. They were attempting, again, to fasten ladders on the exterior wall, which the defenders, however, knocked down again. Those Turks who were standing at the foot of the walls had stones of various shapes and sizes rained down upon them, until, as Niccolo Barbaro records in his diary, “more Turks were killed than anyone could have believed possible.” At the same time, a shot from a cannon destroyed part of
the makeshift rampart and the exterior walls. Under the cover of the dust and black smoke from the firing of gunpowder, about 300 Turks, determined to either win or die for their Prophet, managed to enter the rampart. However, they were repelled. Seeing even that assault by his troops fail, Mehmed decided to use all the forces he had, even his bodyguards and reserves, in a decisive attack against the defenses of the Emperor and Justinian. The new attack began at dawn. The Sultan himself was stationed at the head of his 12,000 janissaries, whom he led until they had reached the trench. In his “history”, Kritovoulos writes, “The rounds of artillery fire fell like rain, producing confusion amongst the defenders.”
The janissaries were trying to use that confusion In order to take the exterior wall unawares. Justinian and the small force of defenders surrounding him took on the attackers with lances, axes, spears, and swords. In a short time, the battle turned into one of hand-to-hand combat. At that particular time, north of the Gate of Adrianople, near the Palace of the Prophyrogennitos, where the wall was a single one without a trench, a small entrance, which was nearly underground and which connected the city with the sectors of the wall, had been left unguarded throughout the assault. It was the Gate of Kerkoporta. Through that gate, a small number of janissaries had entered the area between the two walls and attacked the defenders of the exterior wall from behind, completely surprising them. Soon, their numbers increased and the clashes also intensified
towards the Gate of Adrianople. The imperial and Venetian banners which had been on the ramparts were replaced by Turkish ones. However, the few Turks who had entered the city from that point and headed towards the Palace of Blachernae, were successfully confronted by the military forces of the Bocchiardi brothers, who managed to regain control of the area. Just as the emperor learned of the aforementioned incident, and he was ready to rush there to deal with the situation, Justinian was wounded. His injury and his subsequent withdrawal from the field of battle, despite the Constantine’s pleas for him to stay, caused an upheaval, according to most sources, amongst the defenders at the Gate of St. Romanos.
When the small gate that connected the area with the city opened, many Genoese comrades in arms of Justinian used it as chance to escape with him, to the port. When Mehmed realized that the defense had slackened, he immediately ordered a massive assault against the destroyed walls. The situation worsened when some people, seeing the Turkish banners flying atop the Gate of Adrianople, began to shout, “The City has fallen,” when, in reality, that had not happened. That shout, however, discouraged most of the defenders, who began, by the hundreds, to escape to the city through the Gate which had been left open during the withdrawal of Justinian. That sector was flooded by thousands of Turks. At 8am on 29 May, the area near the Gate of St. Romanos,
where the Emperor was engaged in battle, was attacked from the rear. When the Emperor realized that he was surrounded by the Turks, he was heard to say, “Is there no Christian to take my head?” Shortly afterwards, he fell down, dead, unknown, amongst the hundreds of dead – Constantinos Dragastis, the seventh of the Palaiologos, the last of the Greek emperors, the defender of the city of Constantine the Great. The cry that the city was lost echoed through the streets. Along the length of the section of walls south of the Lycus River, the Christians had repelled all of the Turkish assaults. After that cry however, one Turkish regiment after another entered through the openings in the walls and spread on both sides in order to open the gates.
The defending soldiers atop the walls were surrounded; many were slaughtered or taken captive. The Sultan had reserved control of some regiments in order to use them as his escorts. Most of the regiments, however, were already hungry to begin the pillaging, especially the seamen, who feared that the soldiers would get there before them. Hoping that the pontoon bridge would prevent the Christian ships from escaping through the Golden Horn, the seamen abandoned their ships and headed ashore. Their greed saved many Christian lives. When he verified that the city had fallen, the commander of the Venetian fleet, Alviso Diedo, sailed to Peran in a small boat. He promised that his Venetian ships would conform with any decision made by Podesta,
who had locked the gates of Peran. Diedo, who had the chronographer, Barbaro with him was unable to return to his ships. However, the Genoese seamen on the ships, which were anchored below the walls of Peran made their intention to sail known and wanted to have the support of the Venetians. After their insistence, Diedo was allowed to depart with his fleet. He sailed directly to the pontoon bridge which was still closed. Two of his seamen used an axe to cut the ropes which held it together. The barrels drifted apart. Diedo then sailed away, with seven Genoese ships behind him. Shortly afterward, they were joined by most of the Venetian war ships, four or five of the Emperor’s galleys, and one or two Genoese war ships. Having passed the pontoon bridge, the entire flotilla
waited at the entrance to the Bosporus for about an hour to see if other ships would escape. Afterwards, they took advantage of the strong northern wind that was blowing, in order to cross the Black Sea via the Dardanelles, and sail to freedom. Diedo managed to get to Venice, where his family’s palace was located. He is buried in the graveyard of the Church of Sts. John and Paul. The Genoese galley which was transporting the wounded Justinian, was one of those which had succeeded in escaping via the Golden Horn. Justinian disembarked at Chios and died there one or two days later. In their rush to pillage, the Ottoman seamen had abandoned so many of the Sultan’s ships that the Turkish admiral was powerless to stop the
escape of Diedo’s fleet. With as many ships that were still manned, he set sail through the broken pontoon bridge in the Golden Horn. At the port, he trapped the ships that were still there: another four or five imperial galleys, two or three Genoese galleys, and unarmed Venetian merchant ships. The Cretan seamen stationed at the three towers near the entrance to the Golden Horn had continued to resist. However, they later surrendered, early in the afternoon, on the condition that their lives and belongings would be spared. Their two ships were anchored below the towers. Undisturbed by the Turks, whose admiration they had won, they launched their ships and sailed to Crete. Sultan Mehmed had promised his troops three days of pillaging, to which they were entitled. The soldiers surged into the city. At the start, they could not believe that its defense was finished.
They slaughtered anyone they met in the streets – men, women and children – indiscriminately. The blood ran in rivers. Soon, however, their thirst for blood was appeased. They realized that that both the captives and the valuables were objects that could garner them greater gains. Of the soldiers who had entered the city via the trenches or from the Gate of Kerkoporta, many turned back in order to pillage the imperial Palace of Blachernae. Others headed to the small but beautiful churches which were near the walls (St. George, near the Charisia Gate, St. John in Petra, and the grace-filled church of the Monastery of the Savior in Chora), in order to strip them bare of their plentiful articles – the vestments, and whatever else they could strip from them. In Chora, the left the mosaics and the frescoes untouched, but they destroyed the icon of the Mother of God, the Directress, the most holy icon in all of Byzantium, which, as
people had said, had been painted by St. Luke the Apostle, himself. The seamen from the ships in the Golden Horn had already entered the city via Plateia Gate and emptied the repositories along the length of the wall. Others had climbed the hill in order to merge with the soldiers, who had entered from the walls, in order to strip the three-domed Church of the Pantocrator and the monastic buildings attached to it. Afterwards, the soldiers from both fleets and the first hordes of soldiers from the walls met up at the largest church of Byzantium, the Church of St. Sophia. The church was stilled filled with people. At the commotion of the mayhem outside, its massive bronze doors had closed. Within, the congregation was praying for a miracle that could alone save them.
But, there was no miracle and the doors were forced open. Some of the elderly and the invalid were killed on the spot; most of the rest were chained together. Many of the beautiful young women and men were nearly torn to pieces as their captors fought over them. Soon, a long procession was dragged towards the camps of the troops. Anyone who collapsed out of weakness was slaughtered, along with a number of children who were considered to be worthless. The Sultan himself entered the city late in the afternoon, accompanied by the janissaries of his guard. He proceeded slowly through the streets, towards the Church of St. Sophia. He dismounted before its doors and bent down to take a handful of dirt, which he then poured over his turban.
Along with the circuit of the city by the Sultan, order was restored. His army had been glutted by the plunder, and his military police ensured that the men returned to their camps. The Grand Duke, Loukas Notaras was discovered amongst the captives, along with another nine ministers of the Emperor. The Sultan freed them all himself. However, many of Constantine’s generals, among whom was Frantzis, were not recognised and remained in captivity. The kindness which Mehmed had shown to the surviving ministers of the Emperor was of short duration. His generosity had always decreased due to his suspicions, and some of his advisors had warned him against trusting the Grand Duke. A few days later, the Grand Duke, along with his son, was decapitated. He did away with another nine Greek noblemen,
who were sent to the scaffold. Their wives were thrown into captivity and became part of the long procession of captives which accompanied the Court in its return to Adrianople on 21 June. Notara’s widow had died on the way, in the village of Messini. For 18 months, Frantzis was a slave to the person in charge of the Sultan’s horses, before managing to free himself and his wife. Mehmed was well-informed about the difficulties of the Church and he was now able to be more fully informed about the details. He learned that the unitary Patriarch, Gregory Mammas, had left the city in 1451 and that a new patriarch had to be chosen. When Constantinople had fallen, George Scholarios (Monk Gennadios) had been in his cell at the Monastery of the Pantoctrator. When the Sultan summoned him before him,
he was nowhere to be found. They finally discovered that a wealthy Turk from Adrianople had purchased him. After a few discussions, George Scholarios was persuaded to accept the patriarchal office. As many bishops as could be found gathered in order to convene the holy synod. At the request of the Sultan, they officially elected George, under his monastic name, Gennadios, to the patriarchal throne. After a sojourn of several months in the Church of the Holy Apostles, which afterwards became a mosque, Gennadios asked permission for the transfer of his See. After having gathered all the treasures and relics which had been salvaged in the church, he transferred them to the precinct of Phanari, to the church of the female monastery, Pammakaristou. The patriarchal See remained at Pammakaristou for more than a century.
At any rate, one must not lose sight of what was written about Mehmed by the historian Steven Runciman: As Mehmed passed along the streets of the city, he was moved to tears. He uttered, “What a city to have been handed over to pillaging and destruction.” Once upon a time, upon a time, I went, flying, to Therapia. Now, my wings are clipped so I walk the long way. Now, my wings are clipped, so I walk the long way.
Once upon a time, upon a time, an angel I was. Now, others are angels at the fount where water I drank. Now, others drink at the fount where water I drank. Now, others drink it all.
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