BYZANTIUM: THE CIVILIZATION THAT PRODUCED ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY

HISTORY OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE


Byzantine reliquary of the True Cross from AD 800

Constantinople-based Byzantium endured for 1,123 years and 18 days, until 1452 when the Ottoman Turks transported ships over a hill and captured Constantinople. At its height, the Byzantine empire embraced the entire Mediterranean basin, including present-day Greece, Italy, Spain and North Africa. Byzantine objects have been found in France, England and Denmark. Princes and lesser aristocrats placed their names on a list for a young Byzantine princess as wife. Those rejected were sometimes offered a cousin.

When the Roman empire moved to Byzantium (a Greek name) the official language of the empire was changed from Latin to Greek and Roman Law was condensed into the codex Justinianus 529, a document that defined the legal code in Europe through the Middle Ages. The Byzantines fought battles with Persians to the east, Arabs to the south and Slavic tribes and Huns to the north. At its height around A.D. 565, the Byzantine empire ruled the Holy Land, nearly the entire Mediterranean, a large chunk of eastern Europe and most of Asia Minor. It lost the Holy Land and Egypt to Muslim invaders is the 7th century and a large portion of Asia Minor to the Turks in the 11th century.↕

Around the year 1000, the Byzantine embraced much of present-day Greece and Turkey and had a population of around 20 million people. The Byzantines had retaken land taken from them by the Muslims and captured new land in the Balkans.

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Christian Denominations: Christianity.com christianity.com/church/denominations ; Christianity Comparison Charts religionfacts.com ; Difference between Christian Denominations Quoracom ; Holy See w2.vatican.va ; Catholic Online catholic.org ; Catholic Encyclopedia newadvent.org ; World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches oikoumene.org ; Wikipedia article on Protestantism Wikipedia ; Online Orthodox Catechism published by the Russian Orthodox Church orthodoxeurope.org ; Nihov's Worldwide Coptic Directory directory.nihov.org

Books: Byzantium by John Julius Norwich; Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich

Roman Empire Becomes Byzantium

The Roman empire was at its height in the second and third centuries A.D., when it included North Africa (by the conquest of Carthage in the three Punic Wars, 264-146 B.C.), the Holy Land, Egypt, Iberia (Spain), Gaul (France, conquered by Caesar in 56-49 B.C.), Britain (added in A.D. 43), Asia Minor, Macedonia (Greece) and Dacia (Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, conquered in A.D. 117).↕


Byzantine Empire in AD 565

The Emperor Diocletian (rules A.D. 284-305) divided the Roman Empire into eastern and western sections (the divided line was west of Greece in what is now Bosnia). The move was made so that Rome could defend itself better against invading Barbarian tribes from the north, and to make administration of the vast territory easier. One half was centered around Rome and the other half was centered in Byzantium (Constantinople) in Asia Minor.

The eastern empire flourished while the western empire declined and was whittled down by Barbarian invasions. When the western Roman empire collapsed, the eastern Roman empire lived on for more than a thousand years. Justinian reunited the empire briefly in the mid-6th century. Byzantines called themselves Romans.

Honorius Moves Western Roman capital to Ravenna

Besieged by Barbarian attacks, the lazy and cowardly emperor Honorius (Western Roman Emperor from 393 to 423) moved the capital of the Western empire from Rome to Ravenna, a small village on the Adriatic coast of eastern Italy. The capital he erected was protected the vast marshes of the Po River and reached by a single artificial causeway that kept it protected and isolated from bloodshed and chaos that prevailed in most of the empire. Ravenna fell to the Lombards in the ninth century and the Franks in the tenth. The Franks eventually gave it to the popes and made into part of the Papel states.

Galla Placidia, the sister of Honorius, lived an interesting life. She was given away as part of the spoils of war when Rome was sacked by Alaric and married to Alaric's brother Ataulfus at a wedding ceremony in which a hundred bowls of gold and jewels were strewn at her feet and a former Roman emperor serenaded her with nuptial hymns. After her husband was murdered in Barclelon she was dragged ten miles by the horse of his killer, ransomed for 450,000 bushels of wheat and then sexually assaulted by her brother Honorius. After escaping to Constantinople she returned to Ravenna with a war fleet and took control of the Western Empire, only to lose half of it to the Vandals.

Galla Placidia's daughter, Honoria was brought in the restrictive confines of the Byzantine court. She developed a crush on Attila the Hun and sent a love letter and ring to his camp on the banks of the Danube. Her mother was distressed when she found out that she had Honoria committed to a convent for the rest of her life.

Constantine the Great (A.D. 312-37)


Byzantine mosaic of Constantine

After the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity he moved the main capital of the Roman empire to Byzantium in A.D. 330 and renamed it Constantinople after himself. With this move the pagan Roman empire was transformed into the Christian Byzantine empire and Rome itself began to decline. In the middle of the 5th century Rome was sacked by the Vandals and Visigoths.↕

Constantine the Great (born A.D. 280, ruled 312-37) combined Christianity, Roman law and Greek culture and Christianized the Roman Empire. He founded the great city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) at the Roman city of Byzantium. He slowly reunified the Roman Empire under a single rule, proclaimed a policy of toleration towards Christians, who had been brutally suppressed under the previous Roman Emperors Diocletian and Galerius.

Constantine I ruled jointly with Licinius (ruled A.D. 306-324) and as the sole ruler (ruled A.D. 324-337). He came to power after a victory in a Roman civil war and considered himself to be a successor of the "good emperors" of the second century. However he ruled as a despot, surrounding himself with pomp and spending a lot of money on military campaigns and monuments.

Constantine did make some reforms and was a great patron of the arts. He admitted bishops to his council and adopted Christian teachings on the treatment of slaves and prisoners. He changed the way the army was structured, shrinking the infantry and enlarging the cavalry, which some scholars claim changed the army as a whole and paved the way for the demise of Rome.

Flavius Vakerus Constantinus was born in the Roman province of Mossia (later Serbia). His father Constantinus was a member of an important Roman family. His mother Helen was the daughter of tavern-inn owner. In A.D. 293, during the Tetrarchy (ruled A.D. 284-305), when the Roman Empire was split into four parts, Diocletian made Constantinus the emperor of Gaul and Britain. Young Constantine was kept in the court of Galerius, the eastern emperor, as a virtual prisoner.

In 305, Constantine escaped the court of Galerius and joined his father, who died a year later, making Constantine the emperor. For five years Constantine ruled peacefully over Gaul. Constantine appears to have murdered his father in law, wife and son. He is said to have killed his wife by locking her in a steam bath, after he suspected that she had been unfaithful.

Book: Constantine the Great by Michael Grant

Constantine Becomes a Christian and Conquers Rome


Constantine's coversion

In 310, Constantine decided he was going to take Rome. He lead a small army to the Alps for an important battle outside Rome on the Tiber River against his rival Maxentius, the emperor of Rome. According to the historian Eusebius, while on his way to the battle, Constantine had a vision while staring up at the sky. He reportedly saw a flaming cross above the sun with the words " In hoc signo vinces " ("in this sign you will conquer"). The words " In hoc signo vinces " are featured on the label of Pall Mall cigarettes.

That night Constantine dreamed that Jesus told him to take the cross as his standard. Constantine ordered that new standards be made up, emblazoned with the cross. The next morning at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, on October 28, 312 he scored a victory against great odds against Maxentius, whose forces were swept into the Tiber, where Maxentius drowned.

Constantine attributed his military victory to the Christian faith and entered Rome with Maxentius's head on a pike. He erected the triumphal Arch of Constantine in Rome and took control of the western half of the Roman Empire. Maxentius had been the strongest member of the Tetrarchy. By 323, Constantine had unified the Roman Empire and brought it under his control by defeating another rival, the eastern co-emperor Licinius.

The Arch of Constantine (between the Colosseum and Palantine Hill) is the largest of ancient Rome's arches. Situated within the same traffic circle that contains the Colosseum, the 66-foot-high arch is one of the best preserved ancient Roman monuments in Rome. Resembling a decorated version of Paris's Arc de Triumph, it was built to honor Constantine's victory over his rival Maxentinus a the Battle of Milvian Bridge in A.D. 315.

Constantine Christianizes the Roman Empire

Constantine was accepted as a Christian after the Battle of Milvian Bridge and is regarded as the first Christian emperor. He wasn't baptized, however, until he was on his deathbed and called for a priest, shouting “Let there be no ambiguity." In March 313, Constantine issued his famous Edict of Milan which gave every person the right to practice any religion they wanted. With the edict Constantine formally recognized Christianity and put an end to the persecution of Christians.

In 324, Constantine made Christianity the state religion: stating there was "No distinction between realm of Caesar and the realm of God." Under Constantine, pagan temples were expropriated, their treasuries were used to build churches and support clergy, and laws were adjusted for Christian ethics.

Before Constantine's time Christians practiced their faith in private. Under Constantine, suddenly they could practice their faith openly. Constantine went on a church building spree, constructing churches from Jerusalem to Rome. His grandest church was the original St. Peters which was destroyed by fire.

Constantine Moves the Roman Capital to Constantinople


Constantinople

In A.D. 330, Constantine moved the main capital of the Roman empire from Rome to Byzantium, a former Greek city on the Bosporus. With the move from Rome to Byzantium (later Constantinople and Istanbul) the pagan Roman empire was transformed into the Christian Byzantine empire.

Byzantium was chosen as the capital of the Roman Empire because of its easily defended position, it nearness to the unstable borders along the Danube and the Middle East, and it strategic position on the major Oriental and Black Sea trade routes.

Constantine wanted to call the city New Rome but it became known as Constantinople (“the City of Constantine”). At considerable expense, Constantine began the process of transforming Constantinople into an imperial capital by building impressive buildings and monuments. The process was continued after his death by the Byzantine Emperors.

Ironically, Rome reached its greatest size under the reign of Constantine (A.D. 306-337), when it was a vast cosmopolitan walled city with more than one million people, including a variety of ethnic groups from the far corners of the empire. When Constantinople became the capital Rome itself began to decline. A sub-emperor remained in Rome for another century or so.

Christianity Advances Under Constantine

Constantine became like a Pope. He called the first general ecumenical council, in Nicaea in A.D. 325, to settle questions of doctrine. The most important decision was the adoption of Nicene creed: the assertion that the denial of Christ's divinity was a heresy. This became the basis of all church doctrine from that time forward. Anyone who departed from the creed was branded a heretic. See Separate Article PERSECUTION, CONSTANTINE AND CHRISTIANITY IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE factsanddetails.com


Constantine and Helena and the True Cross

St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, became one of the most cherished saints in the Greek Orthodox church. On her first pilgrimage to the Holy Land she came back with the True Cross, Christ's crown of thorns and the lance used to pierce his skin before his crucifixion. And if that wasn't enough she identified Christ's tomb, which had been covered over by a temple dedicated to Aphrodite. The site is now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem."

Under Constantine, Christians who deviated from official church doctrine were branded as heretics and were given no support, were punished with penalties and were ordered to stop meeting.

After Constantine died in 337, the Roman Empire was divided up among his sons. Christianity spread gradually but inexorably through the Roman Empire and beyond its borders. Paganism was banned at the end of 4th century and restrictions were placed on Judaism. The power and the wealth of the church grew quickly with the help of faithful Christians who donated their land and other possessions. By the beginning of the 6th century Christianity had 34 million followers. They made up half of the Roman Empire.

First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325

In A.D., 325, the Council of Nicaea, held in Nicaea (present-day Iznik In Turkey), inaugurating the ecumenical movement. Called by Constantine to combat heresy and settle questions of doctrine, it attracted thousands of priests, 318 bishops, two papal lieutenants and the Roman Emperor Constantine himself. The attendees discussed the Holy trinity and the eventual linkage of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, argued whether Jesus was truly divine or just a prophet (he was judged divine), and decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

The early councils were shaped largely by Christian scholars from Alexandria and their views were in line with modern Coptic doctrine that the God and Christ are of the same essence and that Christ's divinity and humanity are unified.

Constantine made a grand entrance at the council. According to one witness he “proceeded through the midst of the assembly” and acted like a Pope. The greatest debate was between Arius, a priest from Alexandria, who argued that Christ was not the equal of God but was created by him, and Athanasius, the leader of the bishops to the west, who claimed that the Father and Son, where distinct, but hatched from the same substances and thus were equal. Arus's argument was rejected in part because it opened to the door to polytheism and a doctrine was codified that stated Christ was “begotten not made” and that God and Christ were “of the same stuff."

The Council of Nicaea gave us the Roman version of Christianity rather the Nestorian. The most important decision was the rejection of Arius's arguments and the adoption of Nicene creed: the assertions that Christ's divinity, the Virgin Birth and the Holy Trinity were truths and the denial of Christ's divinity was a heresy. This became the basis of all church doctrine from that time forward. Anyone who departed from the creed was branded a heretic.


Constantine at the Council of Nicaea


Constitutum Constantini (Donation of Constantine) and Its Unraveling as a Forgery

The Pope's authority over all of Europe is based the Constitutum Constantini (the Donation of Constantine), a 3,000-word documented purportedly written by Constantine between A.D. 315 and 325 that legalized Christianity and gave the See of Rome and the pope spiritual power over the entire world in addition to political power over Europe. The document was not made public until the ninth century when it was used as evidence in dogma debates when the Christian church split into the Catholic church and Eastern Orthodox Church.

In the A.D. 8th century Pope Stephen II and the military leader Pepin (king of the Franks and father of Charlemagne) gained control of huge chunk of land in central Italy, that included Rome and Ravenna, by using the Constitutum Constantini . The chunk of land, known as the Patrimony of St. Peter, was ruled by the popes for most of the next 11 centuries.

The Constitutum Constantini (the Donation of Constantine) was later revealed to be, in the words of Voltaire, the "boldest and the most magnificent forgery." One of the documents flaws was that it gave Rome authority in New Rome (Constantinople) at least a decade before the city was founded.


Justinian

In 1440, the Constitutum Constantini was labeled a fake by Lorenzo Valla who was called into settle a dispute between King Alfonos and Pope Eugenius IV over who had secular authority over Italy. Valla showed the Constitutum Constantini was a fake. An authority on Latin, Valla pointed out that a diadem in Constantine's time was not a gold crown as the the Constitutum Constantini claimed but was coarse cloth and the word "tiara" was not even in use at the time the document was said to have been written. A number of other words in it were not used in Constantine's time.

Valla was later convicted of heresy for pointing out the "Apostle's Creed" could not have been composed by the Twelve Apostles. He was convicted on eight counts and probably would have been burned at the stake were it not for his patron King Alfonso. Valla's criticism of the Bible itself were not well received either.

Justinian

Byzantine emperor Justinian II, also known as Justinian the Lawmaker, was famous for creating the first codified legal book, the Institutes, later known as the codex Justinianus 529 or simply The Digest. Justinian was born into a peasant family in 452 and rose through the ranks with the help of his uncle. Justinian also changed the face of money by putting his likeness on one side of a coin and the image of Christ on the other.µ

Justinian gave us the word "justice." He made an effort to root out corruption and make law more understandable and accessible. His legal textbook, which became the law of the land for almost 1000 years, was created with a hand-picked group of lawyers and synthesized from 2000 books of Roman law.

Justinian briefly retook control of Italy from the Barbarians, closed the Platonic Academy in Greece and ordered all Pagans to convert. According to Procpoius, Justinian was a great man but he was also manipulative, hypocritical, sneaky and had "no more sense than a donkey."

Justinian's Nymphomaniac Wife


Theodora

Justinian's wife, Theodora, was the daughters of a Constantinople bear keeper. Before their marriage she was a popular actress known for her sexual appetite. Theodora reportedly danced at the Byzantine equivalent of striptease shows and sold her body to the highest bidder. She reportedly got her kicks from watching prisoners being tortured and dismembered.

"Often she would go to a bring-your-own dinner party with ten men or more," the historian Procopius wrote, "all at the peak of their physical powers and with fornication as their chief object in life. [She] would lie with all her fellow dinners in turn the whole night long: when she had reduced them all to a state of exhaustion she would go with their menials, as many as thirty on occasions, and copulate with every single one of them; but not even then could she satisfy her lust."

After her marriage to Justinian, Theodora became a "faithful wife, a passionate Christian theologian, and the most powerful empress in the history of the Roman Empire." Theodora and her sister Zoë were co-empresses. They survived "traitorous husbands, coup attempts, street riots, greedy Patriarchs, a conniving eunuch brother-in-law, passion, jealousy and deceit." A first hand account of their rule was written by philosopher Michael Pselius.

Other Byzantine Emperors

Leo III "humanized" Justinian law in the early 8th century by substituting amputations and mutilations for the death penalty. He also baptized Jews and heretics and bitterly opposed tax-free monasteries on the grounds they claimed able-bodied men he would have preferred to have in his armies.µ

The Byzantine emperor Valentinian I had two pet bears, Innocence and Golden Grain. When he couldn't sleep, he reportedly ordered that his servant feed a prisoner to the bears who lulled the emperor to sleep as they mauled and dismembered their victims.

Plague of 541-542

Constantinople was hit by a devastating plague in the mid 16th century. So many people died that there were not enough living to bury the dead and two hundred thousand immigrants were brought in from Bulgaria to repopulate the city. The first major pandemic (a super epidemic) of the plague hit the Mediterranean in A.D. 541 and lasted more than two centuries. The worst years were 541 and 542 when 40 percent of Constantinople's population perished. "The bodies of the sick were covered with black pustules...the symptoms of immediate death," wrote a Byzantine historian. Cities were abandoned, agriculture declined, populations plummeted and trade faltered. At its height 10,000 people died in Constantinople alone, every day.╧µ

Humans stricken with the plague in Byzantine times showed symptoms almost immediately. Victims ran a high fever and suffered excruciating swelling in their groin, upper legs and armpit areas—the buboes, which the bubonic plague is named after. Abscesses and carbuncles sometimes also appeared on the skin, and a white coasting covered the tongue. Most Bubonic plague victims died within five days. Sometimes the infection spread via the bloodstream to the lungs; then death came in three days or less, with victims spitting up blood before they died. This was pneumonic plague, the deadliest form of the disease."╧

A rapid pulse, slurred speech, and fatigue accompanied the disease and a purplish black pustule formed on the fleabite. The heart had difficulty pumping blood through the swollen tissues and the pressure on the neurological system was intense, causing terrible pain and a spastic disorder called "the Dance of Death."▾▾

The victims were reviled rather than looked upon with pity. Their urine was thick and blackish red and their bodies, breath, spit and excrement gave off a horrible stench. The disease struck with randomness and unpredictability. Some victims were healthy one day and dead the next. Some people didn't get sick at all. Husbands left their wives during the pandemic, parents abandoned their children, and dogs dragged bodies from shallow graves and left the bodies half eaten on the streets.▾▾

"The bodies of the sick were covered with black pustules...the symptoms of immediate death," a Byzantine historian wrote. Cities were abandoned, agriculture declined, populations plummeted and trade faltered. Peasants were exploited by wealthy landlords, who "like gangrene, seize upon village communities to achieved their ruin." The list of taxes and charges enacted on peasants was needled.


Battle of Yarmuk


Battle of Yarmuk

The Byzantine were threatened by the Persians and Turks to the east, Arabs to south and Europeans to the west. The Persian Sassanians were rivals of the Byzantine. The two great empires were almost constantly at war.

One of the most important battles in the history of mankind, The Battle of Yarmuk, took place in the year 636 on the present day border of Jordan and Syria. Here the Muslim armies of Khalid ibn al-Walid met the armies of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius.

Even though they were outnumbered two to one the Muslims prevailed over the more disciplined 50,000-man Byzantine army because the Muslims had greater mobility and more determination and zeal. "The Byzantine infantrymen," wrote National geographic journalist Thomas Abercrombie, "took oaths to 'stand or die' and chained themselves together, 10 on a shackle, 30 ranks deep. On the other side the women accompanying the Muslim soldiers stood behind the lines with tent poles and stones to punish any cowards who turned from battle."

The Arabs earned a reputation of being fierce fighters and just masters, prompting many cities to give in to them without a fight. After of Battle of Yarmuk and defeat of the Byzantine forces Asia Minor and Asia opened up for the Muslim armies. Christians lost control of the Holy Lands and Syria until the First Crusade, almost 500 years later, when they briefly claimed it again.

Battle of Manzikert

In the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks established a small sultanate on Anatolia call Rum (Rome). From here they attacked the Byzantines in Asia Minor, and Arabs in Syria and Palestine. In 1070 the Seljuks took Syria from the Fatimids and entered Byzantine territory. In 1071, they defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert near Lake Van, and took the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV Diogense prisoner. This effectively ended Byzantine rule in Anatolia.

The Seljuk Turks gazis cut deeper into Byzantine territory, raiding and taking booty according to their tradition. Some served as mercenaries in the private wars of Byzantine nobles and occasionally settled on land they had taken. The Seljuks followed the gazis into Anatolia in order to retain control over them.*

Byzantine territory was greatly reduced by the defeat at Manzikert in 1071. At first only a few Seljuks entered Asia Minor, but when they defeated the Byzantines at Malazgirt the floodgates opened and waves of Turkish immigrants poured in. Anatolia was seen as the new frontier . Seljuk military hordes roamed freely through Anatolia with their animals and set up small states.


Battle of Manzikert


Some have argued that Manzikert was noy a pivotal battle. In a review of Erik Hildinger’s “Warriors of the Steppe”, Christopher Berg wrote: “As others have pointed out, the real threat was a combination of poor decisions by the Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes. The true culprit was a series of strategic and tactical mistakes that led to the collapse of Byzantine influence in Asia Minor, a blow they would never recover from. Political intrigue and instability in the capital coupled with an army that consisted of more mercenaries than loyal Byzantines were concomitants but they were of secondary importance. Had Romanus made wiser decisions in planning and execution his campaign, it is possible that the outcome, even with betrayal by a rival, could have been different. [Sources: “Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia 500BC to 1700AD” by Erik Hildinger (Da Capo Press, 1997); Christopher Berg, Sam Houston State University deremilitari.org /^\]

Crusades and the Weakening of the Byzantine Empire

In 1095, Pope Urban II called for a Crusade against the Muslims. The Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus struck a deal with the pope. He would let the Crusaders pass through Constantinople in return for turning over any land won against the Seljuks. With the help of Crusaders of the First Crusade, Byzantine was able to win back much of the territory last to Seljuks. In 1097, the Seljuks were kicked out of Nicaea a driven eastward into Anatolia.

During the Forth Crusade (1202-03), a combined force of Venetians and Crusaders plundered Constantinople. In April 1204, Constantinople fell to a combined force of Franks and Venetians. One chronicler said the conquerors were so brutal that "even the Saracens [Arabs] seemed merciful and kind."

The invaders dismantled the Byzantine empire and took profitable fiefs for themselves. Southern Greece was taken over by the Franks, a term used by the Byzantines to describe all Crusaders, and great Byzantine cities such as Mistra and Agios Vasilios became major centers of European chivalry. The invaders occupied Constantinople for four decades and hauled of many treasures, including relics and the four bronze horses that once guarded the city.

The city was regained by the Byzantines in 1261. The Crusaders were driven out and a Greek emperor was restored to the throne. But the raid on Constantinople greatly weakened the Byzantine empire, paving the way for its conquest by Turks in 1453.


Crusader attack of Constantinople


Fall of Constantinople

The Ottoman Turk leader Mehmet the Conqueror launched a campaign against Constantinople in 1452. Over 100,000 Turks were matched against 8,000 Byzantine defenders. The smallest of the Turks' 67 cannons fired 200 pound stones and the largest had a three foot bore that heaved 1,200 pound cannon balls. To transport this massive canon from Edirne, a cart pulled by 60 oxen was needed, and a construction crew preceded it, building bridges and roads strong enough to accommodate it. The cannon took so long to load and clean it could only be fired seven times a day. But even after seven weeks of constant barrage from the Ottoman cannons and human-wave attacks that left the moats red with blood, the walls of Constantinople still stood."

After just one Turkish assault, forty carts were needed to carry away the dead. In an attempt to surmount Constantinople's walls the Turks built wooden towers which the Byzantines blew up with barrels of gun powder tossed down from the battlements. Both sides inflicted large numbers of casualties with pikes, crossbows and muskets.

The weakest wall of Constantinople stood in front of the Golden Horn, which in turn was closed off by a massive chain that extended across the front of the waterway. To reach this wall for the final assault, engineers built a huge slipway on a hill that flanked the Golden Horn. Seventy ships were rolled on logs and pulled over the hill by men and animals. The objective of this Herculean effort was not only to attack from this side, but also to force the Byzantines to stretch their manpower around the entire perimeter of the wall, possibly exposing a weak point somewhere else.

So intoxicated were Mehmet's men with boldness of their scheme, said an Ottoman historian, "They manned the ships on land as if they were on the sea. Some of them hoisted the sails with a shout.".Others seated themselves on the benches, holding their hands and moving them as if rowing."¤


Ottoman conquest of Constantinople


At 2:00 o'clock in the morning, the Turks launched an all out assault on a gate just north of the Topkapi Gate north of the city with “swarms of soldiers on ladders and heavy cannon fire. The ladders were hurled back, but the Turks found a lightly guarded sally port in the moat and poured through." Shouts of "The Turk Are In City!" rang throughout Constantinople as Turks ran through the street raping, killing and collecting booty. When Mehmet rode through the streets the next day on his horse, alters had been toppled, golden chalices had been seized, and slaughtered soldiers were organized into piles."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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