The Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks on May 29, 1453

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,


The Fall of Constantinople was the conquest of that Roman city by the Ottoman Empire under the command of Sultan Mehmet II, on Tuesday, May 29, 1453. This event marked the final destruction of the Eastern Roman ("Byzantine") Empire, and the death of the last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI.

In the 1,123 years of Constantinople's existence, the city had been besieged many times, but had only been captured once, during the Fourth Crusade in 1204."When the Knights of the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople, massacred its population, and desecrated its churches in unspeakable ways. The fifty seven years occupation of Constantinople by the Crusaders destroyed the Empire politically, economically and was greatly weakened as a result.

"When Constantinople was captured by the Crusaders and Venetians it was adorned with the accumulated wealth of centuries and decorated with art treasures for which not only Greece but the whole Roman Empire had been ransacked. When the city was recaptured by the Greeks it was a desolation. Houses, churches, and monasteries were in ruins; whole quarters were deserted. Heaps of rubbish marked where extensive fires had consumed houses which no one cared to rebuild. The imperial palace itself was in so disorderly and filthy a condition that it was sometime before it could be occupied. In place of a large population of the most educated and highly civilized people in Europe, was a miserably small number of Greeks who had been reduced to poverty with a number of foreign and principally French colonists. While the foreign captors had plundered the city and carried off the bronze horses of Lysippus and innumerable other objects of art and value to Western Europe, they and their successors during the fifty-eight years of occupation had, in their contemptuous ignorance of the art of a conquered people, destroyed probably more than had been taken away as plunder". (Pears, The Destruction of the Greek Empire and the Story of the Capture of Constantinople by the Turks, p. 22).

In 1451, Mehmet II succeeded his father to become the Ottoman sultan. In his book, 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, historian Roger Crowley described the 19-year old ruler: "The man whom the Renaissance later presented as a monster of cruelty and perversion was a mass of contradictions. He was astute, brave and highly impulsive--capable of deep deception, tyrannical cruelty and acts of sudden kindness. He was moody and unpredictable..." Upon becoming sultan, Mehmed immediately began a new building program for his navy, and soon set about plans to do something that the many sultans before him could not--the conquest of Constantinople. In early 1453, he took an army of somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Ottoman troops into Byzantine territory, and on April 6 began major siege operations against the city.

Constantine XI proved to be the last of the Byzantine emperors. Having ruled since 1449, Constantine new the empire's defenses alone, including more than 12 miles of walls, were not enough to repel a determined Ottoman siege or assault.

Crowley wrote: "For Constantine a successful defense of the city depended on relief from Christian Europe. The endless round of diplomatic missions that preceded the siege had all been undertaken to beg or borrow men and resources for the cause of Christendom. Daily the population looked in the direction of the setting sun for another fleet--a squadron of Venetian or Genoese war galleys...But the sea remained ominously empty."

Throughout April and May actions were launched from both the Ottomans and Byzantines, as each side sought to gain advantage over the other. Several Ottoman attacks against the city's walls came to nothing, while Byzantine fleet resulted in only marginal help arriving into the city. Both sides exchanged peace proposals, but neither side could agree. The Ottomans were determined to take Constantinople; the Byzantines were determined to hold it.

On May 26, Mehmet and his generals decided to launch a major assault, and began preparations. The Naissaries, committed Muslim soldiers made up entirely of kidnapped Greek Christian boys who trained for years as the shock troops of the sultan's armies, were held in reserve, waiting to deal the final blow. In Constantinople the next day, a small fleet of Venetian ships arrived, informing Constantine that no relief force was on its way. Constantinople had to defend itself. The next evening, May 28, a service was held in the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople's cathedral.

In the early hours of May 29, the Ottoman attack began with Christian mercenaries in the employ of the sultan. As the city's defenders strung themselves out to stem the Ottoman tide, the Janissaries (Genitsaroi) launched their assault, taking the walls and overwhelming the Byzantine soldiers. Constantine XI, the 88th Roman Emperor by the Byzantines' reckoning, died in a final, gallant attack against the Ottomans.

In his book, Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization, historian Lars Brownworth wrote of the horrific days that followed the fall of the city: "The carnage was terrible. Turkish soldiers fanned out along streets that were soon slick with blood, covering the ground so thickly with corpses that in some places it could hardly be seen. The Venetians and Genovese managed to get to their ships and escape...but the rest of the population was doomed. Women and children were raped, men were impaled, houses were sacked, and churches were looted and burned." After three days of chaos, Mehmet restored order and ended the bloodshed and looting."

Steven Runciman writes: "The church of Saint Sophia was still thronged. The Holy Liturgy was ended, and the service of matins was being sung. At the sound of the tumult outside the huge bronze gates of the building were closed. Inside the congregation prayed for the miracle that alone could save them. They prayed in vain. It was not long before the doors were battered down. The worshippers were trapped. A few of the ancient and infirm were killed on the spot; but most of them were tied or chained together. Veils and scarves were torn off the women to serve as ropes. Many of the lovelier maidens and youths and many of the richer-clad nobles were almost torn to death as their captors quarreled over them. Soon a long procession of ill-assorted little groups of men and women bound tightly together was being dragged to the soldiers' bivouacs, there to be fought over once again. The priests went on chanting at the altar till they too were taken. But at the last moment, so the faithful believed, a few of them snatched up the holiest vessels and moved to the southern wall of the sanctuary. It opened for them--closed behind them; and there they will remain until the sacred edifice becomes a church once more." (Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453, p. 147).

The significance of the Fall of Constantinople cannot be overstated. The sultan soon proclaimed Constantinople his new capital, and Islam gained a foothold in Eastern Europe. For the next 2 1/2 centuries, Christian Europe, which had failed to come to Constantinople's side in its time of dire peril, feared the intrusion of Islam into the continent. Islamic Ottoman armies twice advanced into Europe and laid siege to Vienna--first in 1529 and again in 1683.

The fall of Constantinople also had profound consequences for Europe. Many Greeks and other Balkan peoples, fearing death or forced conversion to Islam, fled westward across the Adriatic Sea to Italy. Many of these refugees took with them vast riches of ancient art and knowledge, helping to ignite the Renaissance.



With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George