Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Tragedy Behind the Fall of Constantinople


The year 1453 was one that altered the landscape of late medieval history, one that changed the world forever. This year entailed a siege that was accomplished by the Ottoman Turks upon the empire of Eastern Rome, and in particular, the great city of Constantinople. Whether or not this clash of civilizations had positive impact is still ambiguous. However, at the pinnacle of Byzantine decline and Ottoman invasion, the sheer cataclysm that the fall of Constantinople assumed in Asia Minor held a strong negative impact. Much like a poetic Homeric epic, the story of the fall of Constantinople was a tragedy worthy of a myriad of infamy. It was the beginning of the end of antique and Christian wisdom through Turkish desolation, the finite demise of the lineage of the great Palaiologos dynasty, along with the sudden end to the tangent glorious legacy of the Roman empire. As prolonged as the conquest of Byzantine by the Turks was, it was swift enough to become a major blow to Christendom, European, and Roman influence.

            The spoils of war are an excellent model by which historians measure the direct impact of conquest. In the case of the Turks; Sultan Mehmed II, after having captured the besieged city, allowed his troops to plunder it of her riches for three days, saving only a few forbidden points of interests such as the Hagia Sophia. This was accomplished through both desecrating and thieving. This vice has highly negative connotations, both in antiquity and in the historical community. If a city is looted, there is no way of preserving, extracting, or excavating artifacts and literature of interest, thereby contracting both contemporary wisdom and modern knowledge.

            One must weigh in the humane factor when examining just how wounding the sack of Constantinople was. The slaughter of approximately seven thousand innocent Christian civilians in the city lasted for three days. Those who could flee the inescapable fate of the city took with them ancient scrolls of knowledge, which is said to have sparked the renaissance in certain parts of Europe. It was also cited by Venetian eye witness Barbaro, that the great Constantine XI, in a heroic last stand, took off any garments that made him look like that of nobility, and lead one last charge against the Turks in an effort to defend the city. Thus it was by the sword that ended the rule of the Palaiologos, and burying along with the ashes, the legacy of the Eastern Roman emperors. The symbolism behind this, is that in the end, the captain went down with the ship. The Roman Empire and the Augustuses were no more. The sheer calamity of putting an end to centuries of Roman triumph, innovation, and monumental influence was tragic and immensely impacting on the world at large. It was as if the fall of Byzantium was the undoing of a precious and important museum artifact.

            The year 1453 was one that altered the landscape of late medieval history. Constantinople had fallen, and because of this, the Greeks and the west wept. The Sultan erected his Ottoman capitol in the same city, and the end of a seemingly timeless empire had reached its end. Much of what modern society now possesses is derived from the Roman Empire. To this day, the west is still in lament due to the loss of what had been somewhat of a father figure to the development of culture and society in itself. Despite this devastating loss, one must remember that even though great figures are remembered, legends never die; such is the legacy of the Roman empire and the city of Constantinople.

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.