Conquest of Constantinople (1453)

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Conquest of Constantinople
Part of: Turkish Wars
The Conquest of Constantinople, contemporary French miniature
The Conquest of Constantinople, contemporary French miniature
date April 2 to May 29, 1453
place Constantinople
output Conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans and end of the Byzantine Empire
Parties to the conflict

Ottoman red flag.svg Ottoman Empire

Byzantine imperial flag, 14th century.svg Byzantine Empire


Mehmed II

Constantine XI.

Troop strength
probably around 80,000, including 30,000–40,000 cavalry ,
12,000 janissaries ,
several Başı Bozuk and vassal troops ,
69 cannons,
100–200 ships
(including six triremes , ten dieres , about 15 rowing galleys, about 75  fustae , 20 parandaria and several smaller ships of various types )
fewer than 10,000, including 5000–7000 Byzantine soldiers,
2000–3000 soldiers from foreign powers,
26 galleys (including ten Byzantine,
five Venetian,
five Genoese,
three Cretan and one galley each from Ancona, Catalonia and Provence)

unknown (high)

more than 9000

The conquest of Constantinople in 1453 (there is also talk of the fall of Constantinople ) by an approximately 80,000-strong siege army of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II ended the Byzantine Empire . The defense of the city was the responsibility of Emperor Constantine XI. , which had 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers available and in all likelihood fell on the city during the last storm.

The fall of the Byzantine Empire also marked the final rise of the Ottoman Empire to a great power. In both Turkish and Western European reception, conquest has a high symbolic value; Depending on the perspective, it is viewed as an imperial-sized pass or as a beacon for decay and decline. In historiography, the conquest of Constantinople is sometimes cited as one of the events that marked the transition from the European Middle Ages to the modern era .


During the conquest of Constantinople , two empires met with completely different starting points. The formerly powerful Byzantine Empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire) looked back on almost a thousand years of history, but was marked by a gradual decline from the second half of the 11th century. In the east, the Turkish Seljuks oppressed the Byzantine Empire and, with the victory in the Battle of Manzikert, initiated the gradual conquest of Asia Minor , which meant the gradual loss of the densely populated "breadbasket" of Anatolia . In the west, Greek-speaking and Orthodox Byzantium was threatened by the “Latin” powers of Catholic Europe, particularly Venice . The capital Constantinople, which had an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 inhabitants in the so-called Middle Byzantine epoch (around the middle of the 7th to the beginning of the 13th century), had been besieged several times without success , but finally fell in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade in " Franconian " hands (→ Latin Empire ). Even if the city in 1261 again returned conquered could be a restoration of the kingdom succeeded only at a comparatively modest level. From the 14th century onwards, it was increasingly oppressed by the Ottoman Empire and gradually lost a large part of its territory to it. The capital Constantinople was able to repel a total of five sieges by Ottoman armies from 1391. At the time of the conquest in 1453, Constantinople only had an estimated 40,000 inhabitants, the Byzantine Empire consisted only of the capital and its surrounding area, some islands in the northern Aegean ( Lemnos , Samothraki and Imbros ) and most of the Peloponnese , the so-called autonomous Despotate of Morea . The last years of the Byzantine Empire were marked by increasingly desperate attempts to obtain military aid against the Ottomans from the so-called “Latin West” (i.e. predominantly Catholic Europe). Most recently, Emperor John VIII Palaeologus even went so far as to carry out union with the Catholic Church at the Council of Ferrara / Florence in return for a crusade against the Ottomans and thereby largely to meet the demands of the papacy .

In contrast, the Ottoman Empire was only founded in Söğüt in 1299 and experienced enormous and continuous expansion in the first hundred years of its existence . This happened first in Asia Minor both at the expense of the Byzantine Empire and other Turkish rulers or Beyliks . In 1369 the Dardanelles expanded into Europe and the previously Byzantine Adrianople (today: Edirne ), which became the new capital of the Ottoman Empire, was conquered . Through further military victories over Serbia ( 1371 on the Mariza and 1389 on the Amselfeld ), Bulgaria ( tributary since 1388 ) and an army of crusaders ( 1396 near Nikopolis ) the rule over the new areas could be secured in the long term. Under Sultan Bayezid I , Constantinople was besieged several times ( 1391 , 1394-1396 and 1397-1402 ), but unsuccessfully.

Expansion of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires around 1450

For the Ottoman Empire, the first half of the 15th century was marked by military threats from outside, revolts and political conflicts within. The siege of Constantinople had to be broken off in 1402, because the newly established Timurid Empire in Persia threatened the Ottoman Empire on its eastern border. After the defeat of the Ottomans by Timur Lenk in the Battle of Ankara in 1402, an internal political conflict over the succession to the throne followed until 1413 (so-called Ottoman Interregnum ), in which Mehmed I was finally able to prevail and the empire stabilized. His son Murad II made another unsuccessful attempt to conquer Constantinople in 1422 . After a long and costly war in the Balkans , Murad concluded a ten-year peace with his enemies there in 1444 and renounced the throne in favor of his only fourteen-year-old son Mehmed II. In the same year, the Kingdom of Poland and the Kingdom of Hungary used the supposed weakness to attack the Ottoman Empire. Murad returned from retirement, defeated the Christian troops as the crusader army in the Battle of Varna in 1444 and, as a reaction to an uprising of the Janissaries, took over again formally in 1446. Until his death in 1451 he achieved further victories in Europe and Asia Minor, so that his now nineteen-year-old son took over an empire that was internally stable and secured at the borders.

While Murad II maintained a friendly relationship with the tributary Byzantine Empire in his old age, Mehmed II hardly made a secret of his desire to conquer Constantinople. Finally, the restricted position of Constantinople between the European and Asian parts of the Ottoman Empire made it difficult to expand further. The transport of troops between Europe and Asia was particularly difficult for the Ottomans due to the Christian dominance of the sea. In addition, Constantinople was an important trading and trading center with still great wealth. Even if the Byzantine emperor was a vassal of the Ottoman sultan, he secured Christian control over the Bosporus and its important trade connections ( Silk Road ) for Western European, especially Italian, traders. The Italian Maritime Republics , which were the strongest competitors of the Ottoman Empire in the control of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea , used Constantinople as a secure base for their economic and military operations. Given the good starting position created by Murad's last campaigns, the opportunity for an attack on Constantinople seemed favorable.


Rumeli Hisarı is built and war is declared

The Byzantines saw the construction of the "Rumelian fortress" ( Rumeli Hisarı ) as a visible sign of the preparation of an attack.

About half a year after his final accession to the throne, Mehmed II took the first step towards conquering the city in the winter of 1451 with the order to recruit workers and collect material for the construction of a fortress on the Bosporus. The construction site at the narrowest point of the Bosporus, opposite the fortress Anadolu Hisarı ("Anatolian fortress") built by Sultan Bayezid I in 1393/94 , was strategically well chosen to control shipping from and into the Black Sea . At the same time, the interaction of the two fortresses would ensure an undisturbed passage of Ottoman troops across the Bosporus at all times.

The preparations for building the fortress seem to have taken place completely openly. In any case, the Byzantine imperial court was aware of the project and initially tried to react by diplomatic means. At the beginning of 1452, an embassy seems to have been sent to the Ottoman court in Adrianople to press for compliance with previous agreements and the suspension of measures, but could not obtain any concessions from the sultan. At the same time, Emperor Constantine XI. a mission to the west to solicit help and support. Although the ambassadors in Venice, the Pope and other powers received a friendly reception, they were unable to obtain substantial support. In the Latin West, the prevailing opinion was that the Byzantine court exaggerated the situation and that the young sultan posed no particular danger.

Work on what is now called Rumeli Hisarı ("European fortress") on the Byzantine side of the Bosporus began on April 15, 1452. The fortress construction caused considerable unrest in Constantinople. The construction of the fortress with the contemporary Turkish name Boğaz-kesen (in German roughly: 'Cutting off the strait, cutthroat') on Byzantine territory was an open provocation. The people living near the construction site were forcibly evicted and the ruins of an Orthodox church on the actual construction site were used as building material. In the vicinity of the city, farmers were also attacked and fields and farms were burned down. While the imperial court apparently decided against immediate military intervention, some residents of Constantinople acted on their own and tried to sabotage the construction work. Meanwhile, Emperor Constantine sent letters and gifts to Sultan Mehmed in order to have the work stopped. When this did not work, the emperor had all the Turks in Constantinople arrested for a short time, but this did not fundamentally change the situation. When two of the emperor's envoys were beheaded by Mehmed in June 1452, this was generally understood as the sultan's official declaration of war on the Byzantine Empire.

After the fortress was completed on August 31, 1452, Mehmed moved with troops to Constantinople to inspect the city and its fortifications for three days. Then he went back to Edirne , the capital of the Ottoman Empire at the time, to devote himself to further preparations for the siege. Before he left, he had placed the newly built fortress under the command of Firuz Bey and provided it with a crew of 400 men and initially a number of bronze cannons . He gave the order that every passing merchant ship must pay a fee; who refuses to sink. This measure was intended to underscore the Ottoman claim to rule almost immediately outside the gates of the Byzantine capital. However, it quickly became clear that the fortress' cannons were not as effective as desired. Thus, several Italian ships managed to cross the strait without paying the required toll. On November 25, 1452, however, the Ottoman control of the strait could be enforced by force for the first time when three Venetian ships coming from the Black Sea refused to pay the fee. One of the ships, a grain-laden galley under the command of Antonio Erizzo , was hit by a stone projectile and sunk. The captured crew was brought to the Sultan, who was in Dimotika at the time, and beheaded, the captain impaled . According to contemporary sources (including Nicolò Barbaro ) this incident in Venice was understood as a declaration of war by the Turkish sultan.

Urban cannons

Two-part Ottoman siege gun (so-called Dardanelles gun) from 1464, comparable to the Urban cannons

During the siege of Constantinople, the cannons made by a certain Urban (or: Orban) played an important role. Comparatively little is known about the Christian Urban; he only comes into the light of history in connection with the siege of Constantinople. He probably came from Hungary or Wallachia or Transylvania (collectively referred to as "Dacia" in ancient diction) and mastered the manufacture of bronze cannons. The sources unanimously report that Urban stayed at the Byzantine court until 1452. It is unclear whether he was already in the service of Emperor Constantine there or whether he wanted to offer it to him first. In any case, the imperial treasury does not seem to have been able to adequately reward Urban. In any case, Urban came to the Sultan's court to offer his skills as a technician and his knowledge of the city's defenses for the attack on Constantinople. The open-minded and interested in technical innovations obliged him to pay a very high wage. It is rather doubtful that Urban manufactured the cannons for the twin fortresses Anadolu Hisarı and Rumeli Hisarı on the Bosporus as early as the summer of 1452. It is more likely that he was one of the sultan's entourage during the multi-day inspection of the city and explained to him the plan for the construction of several extremely large cannons to destroy the land walls. In any case, it is undisputed that Urban began in Edirne in autumn 1452 with the production of several cannons for the imminent siege of Constantinople.

Urban had a total of 69 cannons of various sizes cast in his workshop, including several huge guns for the time, which, however, have not been preserved. The largest cannon, the manufacturing process and properties of which Kritobulos describes in detail, probably had a barrel length of 6-8 m and an approximate circumference of 1.80 m to 2.40 m. She shot stone balls with a weight of probably 550–600 kg, the second largest still weighing around 360 kg. The smaller cannons probably fired bullets from 90 kg to 230 kg. Six iron balls were also made for the largest cannon, which were intended to significantly increase its penetration. The firing frequency of the largest cannon is given in Christian sources as 20 minutes, in Ottoman sources as one to two hours. The besieged estimated that the Ottoman forces were consuming about 1,000 pounds of powder a day. The statements of the Christian chroniclers should be viewed with caution, however, as they could only observe the cannons from a distance and they were repeatedly repositioned under cover of darkness during the siege.

Byzantine calls for help

Contemporary depiction of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI.

After Rumeli Hisarı was built and his envoys were executed, it was clear to Emperor Constantine that there would be war. The Byzantine Empire could not possibly win this war, more precisely the siege of Constantinople, without outside help. So in the autumn of 1452 Constantine sought contact with all rulers who might be able to offer help. Emperor Friedrich III. The Holy Roman Empire , however, had no financial means, England and France had just ended the Hundred Years War , so that such an enterprise was unthinkable for them. The Kingdom of Aragon under Alfonso V could have helped, but preferred to use its troops to defend its own interests in Italy. Domestic conflicts raged in Hungary, and Serbia was an Ottoman vassal and unwilling to leave this role. Georgia and Trebizond were themselves under enormous pressure at their borders and were unable to provide effective aid. The Turkish Beyliks had hardly felt the young sultan's anger a year earlier and were not ready to take any new action. The Byzantine despotate Morea in the Peloponnese was kept in check from October 1452 even by an Ottoman force under Turahan Bey .

Constantine placed his greatest hopes on Genoa and Venice, whose interests were directly affected by the expansion of power by the Ottomans, but also on Pope Nicholas V. The Pope himself did not have sufficient funds to equip a noteworthy auxiliary fleet, but he promised Venice accordingly to act. In return for his support, however, he demanded nothing less than the implementation of church union , which Constantine was forced to promise. In the following months, a diplomatic war between the Pope and Venice developed, which ostensibly concerned outstanding debts for some of the Venetian galleys rented by the previous Pope Eugene IV in 1444. The uprising of Stefano Porcari against the Pope in Rome in the spring of 1453 added to the delay. Finally, an agreement was reached in Venice on the dispatch of a flotilla, which, however, did not even set sail in June 1453, two weeks after the fall of Constantinople. Pope Nicholas, unnerved by the constant delays, had already rented three Genoese galleys in March 1453 and sent them on their way loaded with food and weapons. The Republic of Genoa itself exercised restraint. They offered all support in further diplomatic efforts, were also ready to send a galley with relief supplies, but did not want to take part in the defense of the city with their own troops. After all, the Genoese government left its citizens free to assist the Byzantines at their own expense.

Organization of city defense

The Genoese Giovanni Giustiniani Longo used the permission of his hometown and arrived on January 29, 1453 with 700 well-armed men from Genoa, Chios and Rhodes in the threatened city. On his arrival he was welcomed enthusiastically, the emperor gave him command of the land walls and promised to hand over the island of Lemnos to him as a fief after the victory . Likewise, the captains of two Venetian galleys stopping in Constantinople, Gabriele Trevisano and Alviso Diedo , undertook to remain in the city and support the defenders. The Latins already living in the city were divided on whether to stay. On the night of February 27, seven galleys with about 700 Italians left Constantinople. Many other Venetians and Genoese, including citizens from the neighboring Genoese settlement Pera , decided to help defend the city. These included many members of distinguished families such as the Venetian Cornaro , Mocenigo , Contarini and Venier , the Genoese Maurizio Cattaneo, Geronimo and Leonardo di Langasco and the three Bocchiardo brothers, who recruited small troop contingents from their own resources. The small Catalan settlement based in the city also agreed to remain under its consul Péré Julia. The Ottoman pretender to the throne, Orhan, who lives in Constantinople - a grandson of Sultan's son Suleiman, who was killed in 1409 and who had fought unsuccessfully for the throne in the Ottoman Interregnum - also joined the defenders, as Mehmed would have him killed in any case if he were to win.

A count by the Byzantine historian and imperial secretary Georgios Sphrantzes came in March 1453 to 4973 Greeks capable of arms and almost 2000 foreigners who were available for defense. This small number of defense lawyers came as a shock to the emperor, and he ordered them to be kept secret. In the weeks that followed, all the sailors on the ships in the city were committed to military service. In addition, the emperor had the available precious metals melted down and used both for the purchase of any troops that were somehow available and for the repair of the masonry. These measures eventually increased the number of defenders to around 6,000 Greeks and 3,000 foreigners.

Deployment of the Ottoman army

While attempts were made in Constantinople to build up a maximum of defensive readiness with the available means and few troops, the deployment of the Ottoman army proceeded according to plan. As early as February 1453, the first Ottoman units advanced into the surrounding area of ​​the city, and there were constant skirmishes with the few Byzantine soldiers. A number of smaller Byzantine settlements on the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea ( Mesembria , Anchialios , Bizye ) fell into Ottoman hands, only Selymbria and Epibatos withstood these first coup- like attacks. One of the tasks of the advance commandos was to prepare the road from Edirne to Constantinople for the transport of the siege cannons and to clear the hills surrounding the city of trees, bushes and vineyards so that they could see clearly. The removal of the cannons themselves also began in February, the “Constantinople gun” alone had to be moved by 60 oxen and 200 men. From this point onwards, communication between those living in the city and the outside world was only possible by sea. The troops arriving from Anatolia in the course of March were able to cross the Bosphorus unhindered and protected by the fortresses Anadolu and Rumeli Hisarı. At the same time the troops coming from the European part of the Ottoman Empire gathered, among them a Serbian contingent of 1,500 horsemen. At the end of March, the Ottoman fleet stationed in Gelibolu set sail . On March 23, Sultan Mehmed and his entourage left Edirne. He arrived at Constantinople on Easter Monday, April 2, 1453. Apart from a few ships still coming from the Black Sea, the entire Ottoman army was assembled by April 5 and finally took up the planned starting positions in front of Constantinople the following day.

Military starting position

Byzantine Empire

Restored section of the Theodosian Wall at the Citizens ' Gate to
Pegai (now the Selymbria Gate )

Constantinople had about 21 km of city walls, making it probably one of the best fortified cities of its time. While the approximately parts along the Golden Horn (with a length of 6.5 km) and the Sea of ​​Marmara (9 km) consisted of a simple wall, the land side was protected by the Theodosian Wall for about 5.5 km . It consisted of a moat about 20 meters wide with three successive walls, each with a walkway between them. Along the second and third walls - offset from one another - stood defense towers every 50 to 100 meters. Only in the northernmost section of the land wall, at the Blachernae district, was the land side protected by a simple wall. However, the city's 7,000 to 10,000 defenders were too few to completely man this extensive masonry. Therefore, along the Theodosian Wall, only the front line was occupied in order to allow a retreat to the two rear walls if necessary. The strongest troops, the Byzantine army and the troops provided by the Italians, faced the bulk of the Ottoman troops at the land wall. The Genoese Giovanni Giustiniani Longo had received the field command for the defense of this most important section of the wall from the Emperor on his arrival and he immediately tried to make the necessary preparations. The upstream trenches had been cleared, flooded with water and damage to the walls repaired as far as possible. To ward off the Ottoman cannon projectiles, long strips of straw were made of material that were hung from the walls and were intended to dampen the impact of the projectiles. The Greeks, for their part, had a number of cannons and slingshot machines for defense. In particular, the cannons (all of which were of a considerably smaller caliber than those of the Ottoman besiegers) proved to be of little use, as there was little saltpeter available for their use and even the smaller cannons damaged the masonry of the city through the vibration when fired threatened.

The sea walls to the Marmara Sea, on the other hand, were thin and manned by less powerful units. Cardinal Isidoros stood at the entrance to the Golden Horn with 200 men, followed by Péré Julia and his Catalan men, the Turkish pretender Orhan with his entourage and finally Orthodox monks from the city's monasteries. An attack along this side of the sea seemed unlikely, and the troops stationed here were primarily intended to deter and observe.

The seamen under the command of the Venetian captain Gabriele Trevisano watched over the sea wall on the Golden Horn, probably also in order to be able to quickly strengthen the defenders' fleet if necessary. The total of 26 galleys (ten Byzantine , five Genoese and Venetian, three Cretan and one each from Ancona , Catalonia and Provence ) of the defenders were commanded by the also Venetian captain Alviso Diedo. In terms of numbers, this fleet was clearly inferior to the Ottoman fleet, but the galleys of the defenders were technically advanced and in a sea battle they had an advantage due to their higher walls. The main task of the fleet was to prevent the Ottomans from attacking the sea through the Golden Horn and to provide escort to any reinforcements that might arrive. As additional security, there was an iron locking chain that could be stretched to the neighboring Genoese colony of Pera (today's Galata district in Istanbul's Beyoğlu district ) and that would prevent access to the Golden Horn.

Given the numerical inferiority, the Byzantines' only hope was possible outside support. By holding out against the siege for as long as possible, it is hoped, a relief army will set out or a neighboring power will seize the opportunity to attack Ottoman territory. The conditions for supplying the population even seemed favorable for this. Before the siege, as much food as possible had been brought into the city; In addition, Constantinople, which had shrunk significantly in relation to the number of inhabitants, now had many free areas within the walls, on which crops were grown and cattle were kept anyway .

Ottoman Empire

Map of the Siege of Constantinople

The Ottoman army off Constantinople comprised between 50,000 and 400,000 men, depending on the source and investigation. Since the contemporary Greek and Latin chroniclers tended to exaggerate, the latter number can be regarded as far excessive. Turkish sources themselves speak of around 80,000 fighting troops, which is also considered a realistic figure in modern research. The Ottoman army consisted mainly of cavalry (probably 30,000–40,000 men) who fought on foot during the siege. In addition, there were Turkish infantry, most of which consisted of Başı Bozuk and a contingent of around 12,000 janissaries , as well as Christian troops from the European areas of the Ottoman Empire ( Rumelia ), which probably also comprised a few thousand men. The centerpiece for the siege of Constantinople was the Topçu , the Ottoman artillery force, which carried 69  cannons of various sizes with them. The amount and the central role that this type of weapon played in the siege of the city was unusual and novel for the time.

In addition to the fighting force, there was a convoy (many workers, but also traders, doctors, laundresses, etc.) who could hardly be estimated in terms of size , who were responsible for digging , setting up the siege machines (in addition to the cannons, classic weapons such as the Blide were also used ) and general logistics were needed. The workers also included a contingent of Serb miners who were supposed to bring down the walls of Constantinople by digging tunnels and blasting underground. The Ottoman fleet consisted of about 100 to 200 ships, but in addition to about 30 larger vessels ( triremes , decoding and rowing galleys ) mainly from smaller Fustae existed and transport ships.

Mehmed II planned to lead the main attack along the Theodosian Land Wall . In order not to give other powers (the Italian cities, Hungarians, Turkish Beyliks etc.) the opportunity to take advantage of the situation, Mehmed did not want to risk a protracted siege, but instead wanted to force the decision through the massive use of the Topçu , which breached what was considered insurmountable Should strike the walls of the city. The numerically far superior Ottoman troops would thus have access to the city and protracted, costly attacks against the mighty walls would be avoided. The right wing of his main armed forces were essentially Anatolian troops under the command of İshak Paşa . The left wing under Karaca Bey consisted mainly of Romanian troops and associations of European vassals. The center formed the janissaries and was commanded by Mehmed himself.

In order to keep the neighboring Genoese settlement of Pera in check and to prevent a possible supply of the defenders over land, a smaller land force under the command of Zaganos Pasha was to occupy the territory behind the Golden Horn. The large but technically inferior fleet, initially commanded by Süleyman Baltaoğlu , was supposed to seal off the city from the seaside. As a constant threat, it would tie up troops of the defenders at the Golden Horn. Even more important, however, was the task of the fleet to prevent any attempt to reach the city by sea with supplies or a relief army.

Course of the siege

Start (April 6-11, 1453)

The first days of the siege were not yet marked by major fighting. According to Islamic law, Sultan Mehmed sent an ultimate request to Emperor Constantine to surrender the city without a fight ( ṣulḥan ), which was expected to be rejected. In the first few days, the Ottoman troops mainly devoted themselves to excavation work; the larger guns in particular had to be embedded in the foundations, as the ground was too soft to withstand their recoil. The cannons were divided into a total of 14 or 15 batteries and positioned along the land wall. The smaller Ottoman artillery, which could be put into operation much more quickly, started shelling the city as early as April 6th. A weak section of the wall in the area of ​​the Charisios gate was already badly damaged in the evening and should collapse on April 7th under renewed fire. However, the defenders quickly managed to temporarily close the gap with rubble.

So that such breaches could be filled quickly in the future, the workers of the siege army began to fill in the trench in front of the land wall. In order to better connect the various parts of the Ottoman army, an army road was also built from the main camp of the Ottoman army in front of the land wall, past the Golden Horn to Zağanos Paşa's troops and from there along the neutral Genoese settlement of Pera to the main base of the fleet on the Bosporus created. The miners were instructed to identify suitable spots for tunneling under the walls and to begin excavation work. Also on the first day of the siege, Mehmed had two smaller Byzantine castles in the outskirts of the city attacked. The smaller one, located near the village of Studios on the coast of the Marmara Sea, surrendered within a few hours. The larger one at Therapia resisted for two days. All prisoners made in this way (36 in studios and 40 in Therapia) were staked in the following days within sight of the city.

The Ottoman fleet had its headquarters at the so-called quay of the double columns ( Diplokinion , today the Dolmabahçe Palace stands there ). A first exploratory attack on the Golden Horn on April 9 - about which nothing more is known - appears to have been quickly repulsed. Since the Ottoman fleet was still waiting for some stragglers from the Black Sea equipped with larger cannons, Admiral Suleyman Baltaoğlu decided to use the time to occupy the Prince Islands in the Sea of ​​Marmara , which were still under Byzantine control . Only the monks of the St. George monastery on the island of Prinkipos (today: Büyükada ) refused to surrender and holed up in a fortified tower of their monastery. Finally Baltaoğlu had a fire kindled on the tower to drive out the defenders. These burned or were killed in front of the tower, the island population was then sold into slavery as punishment for this act of resistance.

The defenders of Constantinople initially had little choice but to wait. Given the numerical superiority of the Ottoman Empire, an armed failure was out of the question. The balls of fabric that were stretched to the walls to protect against fire quickly turned out to be largely ineffective. After the first section of the wall collapsed under fire on April 7, the defenders used the nights to repair damage to the walls and to fill in gaps with scree.

First battles (April 12-19, 1453)

The chain used by the defenders is now exhibited in the Askerî Müze military history museum .

On April 12, the last ships of the Ottoman fleet finally arrived from the Black Sea, and Baltaoğlu immediately launched a major attack on the galleys guarding the chain on the Golden Horn. The battle that followed showed the full extent of the naval superiority of the defenders. Although the attackers used all available weapons (cannons, arrows, incendiary bombs) and prepared in large numbers to board the galleys with the help of ladders and ropes, the attacks were repulsed again and again. The high-walled galleys turned out to be impregnable fortresses, from which the decks of the much lower-built Ottoman ships could be covered very effectively with projectiles and stones. The experienced sailors and helmsmen of the defenders did the rest to let the Ottoman fleet quickly fall behind. When the defenders finally formed a counterattack and threatened to encircle the Ottoman ships, Baltaoğlu was left with nothing but retreat. Defeated for that day, his fleet finally found itself back at its anchorage at the quay of the double pillars.

Sultan Mehmed, deeply disappointed with the course of the sea battle, instructed his gun foundries to immediately manufacture cannons with a higher firing angle so that the galleys could be hit above the wall. One of these new cannons was set up on the headland of Galata just a few days later and fired at the defenders' ships crossing in front of the barrier chain. The second shot was a direct hit midships , which sank one of the galleys and killed several sailors. The defenders were then forced to finally withdraw behind the chain. On the sea side, a stalemate had occurred in which both sides shrank from a renewed attack.

The first violent fighting also broke out along the land wall. On April 12th, all of the besiegers' cannons were finally ready for action, including the gigantic "Constantinople gun". Even if it could only fire seven rounds a day, the devastation caused by the projectiles, which probably weighed more than 500 kg, was terrible. From then on, the city was under incessant bombardment, which brought the walls of the city to collapse in a number of places in just a few days. The defenders struggled night after night to fill the gaps that had formed with rubble and rubble. Giustiniani Longi also had wooden pikes and palisades built on the rubble to help ward off the expected assault. The trench in front of it was now largely filled in.

On April 18, after almost a week of bombardment, Mehmed decided that the time had come for a first assault. About two hours after sunset, spear throwers, heavily armored foot soldiers and parts of the janissaries advanced towards the city at the height of the Mesoteichion (where the walls descended into the valley of the Lycus river , which flowed under the walls into the Sea of ​​Marmara). Emperor Constantine, expecting a much broader attack, hurried to the other sections of the wall to get the defenders ready there - unnecessarily, as it turned out to be. Giustiniani Longi coordinated the defenders on site and confirmed his reputation as a competent military. All Ottoman attacks could be repulsed time and time again, Greek and foreign soldiers left all rivalries aside and worked together smoothly. The defenders benefited from the fact that the attackers only proceeded over a narrow range, so that their numerical superiority was of little consequence. After four hours with no tangible results, Mehmed called off the attack. According to the Venetian Nicolò Barbaro , around two hundred Ottoman soldiers were left dead, while the defenders had many injured, but not a single person killed.

The first assault had thus been repulsed extremely successfully. Coupled with the severe defeat inflicted on the Ottoman fleet, many defenders were in good spirits. It was believed that they could hold out until a relief army of one power or another would arrive.

Battle for the Golden Horn (April 20-28, 1453)

On Friday, April 20, 1453, the three Genoese galleys rented by the Pope finally arrived in the Sea of ​​Marmara, accompanied by a Byzantine barge. The Genoese had been held up by a storm in Chios and were only able to continue their journey from there to Constantinople on April 15th. The cargo ship, in turn, had been organized by the Byzantine ambassadors in Sicily and loaded with grain for the besieged city. The ships were spotted by Ottoman scouts at an early stage and Sultan Mehmed had Baltaoğlu informed that he had to stop the Christian ships under all circumstances or that he would otherwise not have to return alive. Baltaoğlu had all the rowing ships in the Ottoman fleet ready and put to sea; He left the ships equipped exclusively with sails behind because of the strong south wind. The two fleets met off the southeastern tip of Constantinople in the early afternoon of the day, and a violent sea battle broke out. Sultan Mehmed watched the sea battle from the banks of the Bosporus at Pera; In Constantinople, the inhabitants for their part huddled on the hills of the city to follow the action. The Christian ships continued their voyage for about an hour without the attackers being able to stop them. Just as they were about to turn the headland into the Golden Horn, the wind subsided and the galleys, drawn by the current, slowly drifted towards Pera. Baltaoğlu saw his chance and urged his sailors to make new boarding attacks. The Byzantine ship, in particular, got more and more distressed, and soon the seafarers on board ran out of projectiles. The Genoese recognized the situation and had their ships moored alongside the imperial galley. The fight continued for the rest of the evening and it was only when the wind picked up again at sunset that the Christian ships managed to break free from their grip and enter the Golden Horn.

In total, the Ottomans had to mourn around one hundred fallen and over three hundred wounded. 23 seamen had fallen on the Christian galleys and over half of the crews had suffered wounds. In the city, this success raised high hopes for further reinforcements from the west. However, these should not be fulfilled in the next few weeks. Sultan Mehmed was furious and probably feared that this defeat could undermine his as yet unconsolidated authority with the troops. He had Baltaoğlu summoned to him the next day, called him a traitor and ordered his beheading. Only the intercession of Baltaoğlu's officers saved him from this fate. In spite of this, he was released from the command of the fleet, relieved of all offices, and all his possessions were confiscated and distributed to the Janissaries. As his successor, Hamza Bey became a close confidante of the Sultan.

Even before the naval battle on April 20, Sultan Mehmed had thought about how he could bring the Golden Horn under his control and thus render the defenders' fleet harmless. Inspired by the company of the Venetians, who in 1439 had transported some galleys and several boats from the Adige Valley over the mountains to Lake Garda ( Galeas per montes ), he decided to take a similar approach. For this purpose, he had the military road built into a ship transport route and had cradles made. The work on this was intensified and in the course of April 22nd, about half of the Ottoman fleet was pulled from the Bosporus over the hill behind Pera (roughly at the site of today's Taksim Square ). In the so-called Valley of the Springs, today's Kasımpaşa district , the ships in the Golden Horn were flooded again. The Janissary Konstantin from Ostrovitza describes this ship slide in his memoirs of a Janissary :

“[…] The Sultan brought the ships in a very peculiar way and at great expense, which confused the whole city and the army. He did it as follows: A trench was dug up the hill, lined with beams and thickly greased with grease; in addition, correct sails were made for each ship. When the wind sails had been raised, all 30 ships glided one after the other as if over water, with flag waving and drum rolls, the cannons fired. "

During the transfer, the Ottoman cannons set up behind Pera fired incessantly into the Golden Horn to fend off a possible sea attack. Initially, the defenders had no choice but to watch the amazing spectacle of the ship procession. Emperor Constantine, Giustiniani Longi and the Venetian captains finally agreed to launch a surprise attack on the night of April 24th and burn down the Ottoman ships at their anchorage in the Valley of the Springs. The Genoese in Constantinople were not initiated because it was feared that the inhabitants of the Genoese settlement Pera would then also find out about the attack, and agents of the Sultan were expected there. The Genoese in Constantinople found out about the project and insisted on being involved, which ultimately led to the attack being postponed to April 28th.

The attack two hours before dawn on April 28th turned into a disaster, as the Ottomans apparently had actually heard of the project. As soon as the small fleet of defenders loaded with fuel (two barges, two galleys and three Fustae) was close enough, Ottoman cannons began firing at them. There was only brief fighting at sea, then the Christian ships withdrew hastily. Only an Ottoman ship could be set on fire, whereas a Venetian galley and a Fusta were lost in the fire of the cannons. About ninety seafarers had lost their lives, forty of whom had swam ashore on the Ottoman-occupied side of the Golden Horn and were executed within sight of the city the following day. In response, the defenders had 260 captured Ottoman soldiers executed on the walls. But this could not hide the fact that the besiegers now dominated the Golden Horn and had won an important tactical victory: The defenders could no longer leave the ports of the city in the Golden Horn with their ships and were also forced to withdraw more troops from the land wall to man this section of the wall. Sultan Mehmed took advantage of the situation and had a pontoon bridge built at the northern end of the Golden Horn in order to be able to relocate his troops and artillery even faster if necessary. In addition, floating platforms for cannons were attached to the pontoon bridge, which could now fire at the Blachernae district from a different angle.

The last weeks (April 29th to May 26th, 1453)

The loss of the Golden Horn drowned hopes in the city. There were first food shortages, which forced more and more soldiers to steal from the walls and help their families with food procurement. At the beginning of May the emperor finally had all available funds used to buy up food and distributed it to the citizens in fixed rations via a commission, which at least alleviated the worst misery. On the night of May 3, under cover of darkness, a Grippo with a crew of twelve was dispatched to the Aegean Sea to look for signs of the arrival of a relief fleet.

Apparently, at the beginning of May, Emperor Constantine again secretly negotiated with Sultan Mehmed through the Genoese in Pera to end the siege. But the conditions remained unchanged: the city would have to be surrendered without a fight, then the property of its inhabitants would remain untouched, while the emperor could retreat unmolested to the despotate of Morea. Even if some of his advisors urged him to accept this offer, the surrender of the city remained unacceptable for Constantine.

After the Golden Horn seemed secure, Sultan Mehmed concentrated all efforts on the land wall in the weeks that followed. On May 7th, another assault along the Mesoteichion was repulsed and on May 12th one at the level of the Blachernae district, where the triple Theodosian wall ended and ran away in a simple wall. The cannons stationed behind Pera were relocated to the city again on May 14th. The cannons kept firing day and night on the city. At the same time, the Ottoman troops intensified their efforts to fill the trench in front of it or to build it over with planks and planks. Several siege towers were constructed to protect the workers at the moat and finally to be pushed over the planks directly to the wall. The first of these towers reached the walls on May 18, but was blown up with powder by the defenders. In the following days it was possible to destroy more towers in this way, and Mehmed had the rest of them withdrawn.

At the same time, the Serbian miners intensified their activities in May. After the defenders discovered the excavations on May 16, the experienced engineer Johannes Grant , presumably a German or Scotsman, was tasked with defending them. In the days that followed, hasty counter-excavations succeeded in smoking out several tunnels of the attackers or placing them under water, but discovering all new excavations remained a constant challenge. On May 23, the defenders managed to capture a group of Serbian miners and their Ottoman officer. Under torture, he revealed the location of all tunnels. On the same day all of the attackers' tunnels were destroyed, whereupon the Ottomans refrained from further attempts at undermining.

The Ottoman fleet made some demonstrations in May. On May 16 and 17, and again on May 21, it ran from the Bosporus to the chain of locks, but there was no fighting. The defenders were repeatedly forced to withdraw their sailors stationed on the walls after the loss of the Golden Horn and to get the ships ready.

Even if all the attackers' plans could be thwarted again and again, the defending soldiers were increasingly tired from the fighting during the day and the digging work at night. On May 23, the sent Grippa finally returned to Constantinople - a relief fleet could not be identified. The inhabitants of Constantinople thought they were increasingly seeing signs of imminent doom. Old folk tales foretold that the last emperor would bear the same name as the first emperor and that the city would only fall when the moon was waning; that the full moon on May 22nd was combined with a three-hour lunar eclipse seemed to confirm fears about the coming catastrophe. During a procession held on May 24th in honor of the Mother of God, the icon that was being carried slipped from the carrying frame and suddenly appeared heavy as lead to those who hurried to try to get it up again. A little later the procession was hit by terrible hail and rain, which forced it to abandon. On the same day a fog that was completely unusual for this time of year rose in the city and it was said that the Holy Spirit was leaving the city under his protection. Finally, the following night it was thought to see a strange light circling around the top of the dome of Hagia Sophia. Interestingly, this light was also seen in the Ottoman camp, but the worried sultan was interpreted by his scholars as a promising sign of an imminent victory. Regardless of whether these events actually happened as described, they impressively reflect how depressed and depressed the mood in the besieged city must have been in the last days of May.

But morale also fell noticeably in the Ottoman camp. So far the defenders had withstood all attacks and with each day that the siege lasted, the likelihood increased that more Christian troops would arrive to defend the city or, for example, the Hungarians would use the situation to attack. In particular, the old advisers of the former Sultan Murad had spoken out against the siege from the beginning and now saw their fears confirmed. Not least to appease these critics, Mehmed entered into negotiations with Emperor Constantine for the last time on Friday, May 25th, but they did not produce any tangible results. The following Saturday there was a major council of war in the Sultan's camp, at which it was decided that it was now time to force a decision. All troops should use Sunday and Monday to rest and prepare, on Tuesday, May 29, the city would be attacked with all available forces.

The fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453

The military victory

Portrait of Sultan Mehmed II, probably painted by the Italian artist Gentile Bellini in 1480.

On the night of Tuesday, May 29, at 1.30 a.m., the last assault on Constantinople began along the full length of the land wall. The first wave was formed by irregular sections of the Ottoman army. After about two hours of fighting, they were withdrawn and a second wave of regular troops continued the attack. At about 5:30 a.m. these troops were also withdrawn and the Janissaries took over the third wave of attacks. At the same time, the fleet attacked the walls on the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea. At sunrise, the defense finally collapsed , presumably at the level of the St. Romanus Gate . In a short time the Janissaries succeeded in consolidating their position here and advancing along the defenses to open more gates.

There are different versions of the exact reasons for the breakthrough of the Janissaries. According to Christian historiography, the Janissaries managed to gain access to the city via a small, unlocked exit gate, the so-called Kerkoporta , near the St. Romanus Gate. According to Byzantine folklore, the city would be lost if the Kerkoporta were breached by the enemy. When the cry Ἑάλω ἡ Πόλις ( Eálo i Pólis “The city is lost!”) Rang out in the early morning of May 29th, a prophecy seemed to have come true. Ottoman chroniclers point out that the main reasons for the victory of the Janissaries are their discipline and fighting power.

However, it is not certain whether the breakthrough of the wall at St. Romanus Gate was actually the first. Some historians assume that the Ottoman forces further south had already managed to break through the fortifications.

The defenders' troops quickly disbanded; the foreigners headed for the port to their ships anchored there, the soldiers of the city hurried to their families. According to Georgios Sphrantzes, who experienced the fall of Constantinople as a Byzantine official, the Ottoman troops had already taken the whole metropolis by 8:30 a.m.

The sack of the city

The city was sacked by the victorious Ottoman forces. There were many bloody attacks against the residents, especially in the first few hours. Among other things, people who had fled to Hagia Sophia were killed there by the soldiers. It was only after the conquerors realized that all organized armed resistance had collapsed that they focused on pillaging the wealthy churches and monasteries of Constantinople. In the Chronicle of the Aschikpaschazade it says:

"ایو طویملقلر دخی اولندی التون و کمش و جوهرلر و انواع قماشلر اورد بازاره کلوب دوکلدی صاتمغا بشلدلر و کافرنی اسیر اتدلر و محبوبه لرنی غازیلر بغرلرینه بصدلر"

" Eyü ṭoyumluḳlar daḫi olındı ​​altun ve gümüş ve cevherler ve envāʿ-i ḳumāşlar āverd (?) Bāzāra gelüb döküldi ṣatmaġa başladılar ve kāfirini esīr etdiler ve maḥbrūzbelerini "

“There was good prey. Gold and silver and jewels and precious fabrics were brought to market in the army camp and piled up in piles; all of this was now being offered for sale. The giaurs of İstanbul were made slaves and the beautiful girls were taken in the arms of the Gazi . "

Only a few neighborhoods were excluded from the looting, such as Petrion and Studion , in which the residents opened the walls of their settlement in good time and surrendered to the Ottoman troops. The Byzantine historian Kritobulos of Imbros (Michael Kritobulos), who was governor of the eponymous Aegean island of Imbros (today Imroz or Gökçeada , Turkey ) for some time under Ottoman rule and who in 1467 wrote an important historical work about the first 17 years of Mehmed II's reign, reports on the capture of Constantinople:

“Then the Sultan moved into the polis and carefully considered its size and location, its splendor and magnificence, the great number, size and beauty of its churches and public buildings, their individual and communal houses, the luxurious complex of the houses of the noble, moreover the location of the port and the shipyards and that the city was equipped in every respect with everything necessary and favored by nature, in short all its furnishings and decorations. But he also saw the large number of those who perished, the abandonment of the houses, and the total destruction and annihilation of the city. And suddenly he felt pity and no small remorse for its destruction and looting, and he shed tears, sighed loudly and painfully, and cried: 'What a city we have surrendered to sacking and desolation!' So it hurt his soul. "

- Critobulus of Imbros

The escape of the besieged

When almost all sailors attacked the sea walls, the Ottoman fleet was unable to act, which enabled around 15 to 20 Christian ships loaded with refugees to exit the Golden Horn and retreat towards the Aegean. In the process, many valuable writings were saved that are still preserved in Florence today. Mehmed tried to counteract a stronger movement of refugees with a decree, which was supposed to secure the continued existence of the Christian population even under Ottoman rule:

“I hereby declare myself and record my decree for my followers. My words concern Christians, known or unknown in East and West, near and far. Those who do not obey my decree, be they sultans or ordinary Muslims, are also opposing the will of God and are cursed. Whether priests or monks find shelter on a mountain, or whether they live in the open desert, in a city, a village or in a church - I personally vouch for them with my armies and followers and defend them against their enemies. Those priests belong to my people (my tabaa ). I refrain from harming them in any way. It is forbidden to keep a bishop from his duties, to keep a priest away from his church, and a hermit from his home. A Muslim must not prevent a Christian whom he has married from worshiping God in her church and from observing the scriptures of her religion. Anyone who opposes these ordinances should be considered an enemy of Allah and his Messenger. Muslims are obliged to adhere to these orders until the end of the world. "

- Sultan Mehmed II

The Grand Vizier Çandarlı II. Halil Pasha , who had resisted an attack by Mehmed on Constantinople, was charged with treason, convicted and, two days after the fall of Constantinople, on June 1, he was the first Ottoman Grand Vizier to be publicly executed.

The death of Emperor Constantine

The exact fate of Emperor Constantine is uncertain. It is more or less likely that he fell together with the defenders at the Theodosian Wall, since he was probably last there and then loses his trail. Ultimately, this remains speculation as there appear to have been no surviving witnesses to the events. The eyewitness reports that have been received make contradicting statements about the exact end of the emperor or expressly only reproduce hearsay .

Sphrantzes, a trusted and personal friend of the emperor, expresses himself succinctly and accurately when he says succinctly that he fell in battle, but that he was not present even when the emperor died. Barbaro also wrote quite soberly that the fate of the emperor was unknown, some wanted to have seen his corpse among the favors, others claimed that the emperor took his own life by hanging before the approaching Turks. In other versions, Constantine is said to have fled from the Turks who were advancing into the city. Richer tells a story in which the emperor was trampled to death by those fleeing. Tursun Beg, on the other hand, reports that the emperor and his entourage accidentally ran into a group of plundering Azabs and were killed in the ensuing battle.

There were other rumors circulating that were embellished over time. So Pseudo-Sphrantzes falls back on a version in which the emperor is said to have asked his companions to kill him before he fell into the hands of the enemy and, after they refused in horror, got rid of all imperial insignia and then with drawn sword in to disappear without a trace in a final battle. In a modification of this story, the emperor was killed and beheaded in battle. When Sultan Mehmed later asked for the emperor's head, it could no longer be found, only a corpse in the emperor's armor could be found among the dead. Other sources, on the other hand, state that the head of the slain emperor was presented to the sultan after the battle and displayed on a lance. According to the current state of knowledge, the truthfulness of this statement cannot be verified.

If the local contemporaries knew about Constantine's fate and the whereabouts of his corpse, the knowledge about it seems to have been lost over time. In any case, no precise picture of the events can be obtained from the sources known and developed today, and the grave of the last Byzantine emperor is unknown.


The consequences of the conquest of Constantinople were far-reaching and manifested themselves in different contexts.

Politically, the conquest of Constantinople was one of the essential building blocks that secured the rising Ottoman Empire a place among the great powers of Europe and the Middle East in the centuries to come . It immediately consolidated his rule, in particular by uniting the Asian and European parts of the empire, thus laying the foundation for the empire's further expansion. On June 3, 1453, just a few days after the conquest of Constantinople, the Genoese colony of Pera Sultan Mehmed had to submit. The Byzantine islands of Lemnos and Imbros , located in the North Aegean, were also conquered in the same year. The despotate of Morea , as the last direct remnant of the formerly powerful Byzantine Empire, finally fell in 1460. The Byzantine Empire and the political structures that emerged from it were thus definitively eliminated. For the Italian cities (especially Venice and Genoa), which were heavily involved in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the loss of control of the Bosporus was a severe blow, which from then on impaired their Black Sea and Levant trade.

Another consequence of the conquest of Constantinople was the emigration of many Greek scholars to the Latin West, particularly to Italy. In connection with the simultaneously emerging book printing, their teachings and the ancient scripts they brought with them quickly spread. Although this process had already started in the previous decades, it was intensified by the final fall of the Byzantine Empire. In historical studies, this influx of ancient scholarship and Greek thought is considered to be one of the triggering moments for the beginning Renaissance and humanism in Catholic Europe. Examples of this migration of knowledge are the Byzantine scholars Bessarion , Johannes Argyropulos and Andreas Johannes Laskaris .

After the conquest, Mehmed declared Constantinople, which in Turkish Kostantiniyye  /قسطنطينيهor Istānbūl  /استانبول was called the new capital of the Ottoman Empire (من بعد تختم استنبولدر / min-baʿd taḫtım İstanbuldur  / 'henceforth my throne is Istanbul'). Linguists assume that Istānbūl  /استنبولa polished form of the Greek expression εἰς τὴν Πόλιν ( is tìn Pólin ) is, which means something like "In the city!" or "In the city!" and tried with the recruiter of the Sultan who moved across the country in the following years should have to persuade the Greek people who had fled to return. In addition, the Greek expression simply means “to Constantinople”, “in Constantinople” and could also have led to the Turkish İstanbul in this factual use, after the Middle Greek phonetics (possibly the pronunciation is tìm Bólin was already available) by the Turkish speakers . Further examples with the influence of the Greek εἰς ( is "in, nach") are εἰς Σμύρνην ( is Smírnin )> Turkish İzmir , εἰς Νίκαιαν ( is Níkean )> Turkish İznik .

Perception in Western Europe

The news of the Hálosis Konstantinoupóleos , the fall of Constantinople, reached Western Europe for the first time at the end of June 1453 and spread over the entire continent in the weeks and months that followed. For example, letters from Venetian officials from Methoni and Chalkida were received in Venice on June 29th . The Pope in Rome learned the news on July 8th from the Franciscan Roberto Caracciolo , and the imperial court received a highly exaggerated representation on July 12th by travelers from Serbia. The reports of those who fled the city naturally played an important role in the presentation of the events. Cardinal Isidoros seems to be of particular importance here, who arrived in Crete at the end of June with three escaped galleys and wrote his report in a series of lengthy letters. He was in contact with various humanistic scholars in Italy, who in turn disseminated his eyewitness reports throughout Europe and thus significantly shaped the Christian-European reception of the conquest of Constantinople.

The news of the conquest of Constantinople was initially received with disbelief, followed by great horror and widely felt sadness. The actual or imagined atrocities during the conquest were regularly exaggerated. The phrase "rivers of blood" soon became an almost fixed phrase in the description of what happened.

Even if the Byzantine Empire had not played a significant role among the European powers for some time, Constantinople still had a high symbolic value in the Christian self-image. The victory of the young, dynamic Ottoman Empire, which was also Islamic, triggered a polyphonic discussion in Europe, which not least touched on our own Christian self-image. Immediately under the impression of the fall of the city , the humanist Nikolaus von Kues wrote his work De Pace Fidei ("On Peace of Faith"), in which he campaigned for an understanding between religions in general, but especially between Christianity and Islam. At the same time there was an increasing number of voices in Europe who regarded “the Turks” as God's punishment for their own sins. The Greeks had brought this punishment through their schism , i.e. the maintenance of the Orthodox faith and the rejection of the Roman Catholic. However, one should not proceed against such a divine punishment by force of arms, rather one must overcome one's own sin and strive for an orthodox life. The situation of European societies was also reflected in these discussions. More and more people were tired of the eternal wars and the quarreling princes (the Hundred Years War had only ended a few years earlier). At the same time, the church was often seen as deeply corrupt and eaten away by sin. The medieval model of christianitas , the idea that all Christian powers should stand together to conquer the Holy Land and to spread the Christian faith, were contrasted with new concepts of understanding with “the others”, but also with inner self-renewal.

Nevertheless, the fall of Constantinople also encouraged new crusade plans. Pope Nicholas V repeatedly called for a common fight against the Turks. The imperial adviser and later Pope Enea Silvio Piccolomini called the imperial estates in 1454/1455 for three so-called Turkish Empire days in Regensburg , Frankfurt and Wiener Neustadt in order to win them over to the war against the Turks. In Lille in Burgundy , Philip the Good organized the so-called Pheasant Festival in 1454 , during which he and many other knights and nobles swore an oath to march the Turks. Although the siege of Belgrade in 1456 could also be won by peasants who poured in and followed the crusade calls, there was no further military action against the Ottomans after all the oaths and incendiary speeches.

The conquest of Constantinople played an important role not only in intellectual and political, but also in profane contemporary culture ( Johannes Gutenberg , for example, produced a book about the Turks). The figure of the “Turk” found permanent entry into Western culture as a fixed topos and is still effective today. The date of the conquest of Constantinople is often mentioned as one of the milestones on the threshold of the epoch between the Middle Ages and the modern era , even if historians now agree that such statements are only of limited significance. However, it is undisputed that the conquest of Constantinople had a high symbolic effect.


In Greece, Tuesday the 29th is considered an unlucky day, just like in the West Friday the 13th.



Even in contemporary reception, the conquest of Constantinople was a recurring theme in the visual representation.

In modern times, the conquest of Constantinople in the 19th and 20th centuries became a motif for historicizing depictions that were also touched by Orientalism .


Film and media

  • The Conquest of Istanbul (Original title: Istanbul'un fethi ), Turkey 1951.
  • Fetih 1453 (German title: Battle of Empires - Fetih 1453 ), Turkey 2012.
Other formats
  • Storm over the Bosporus , television documentary from the series "Imperium", ZDF 2007.
  • Constantinople: Siege and Fall , radio discussion from the "In Our Times" series, BBC Radio 4, December 28, 2006.


  • Gottfried Lange : Historia excidii et ruinae Constantinopolitanae urbis , 1453.
  • Nicolò Barbaro: Giornale dell 'assedio di Constantinopoli . Ed .: Enrico Cornet. Tendler & Comp., Vienna 1856 ( Wikisource ).
  • Michael Critopulus: De rebus gestis Mechemetis . In: Diether Roderich Reinsch (Ed.): Critobuli Imbriotae historiae (=  Corpus fontium historiae Byzantinae . Volume 22 , Ser. Berolinensis). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1983, DNB  840111525 .
  • Leonardo di Chio: Epistula de Urbis Costantinopoleos captivitate . In three parts. Chios 1453 (Latin, [1] ).
  • Dukas (Michael Dukas Nepos): Historia Byzantina . Ed .: Immanuel Bekker (=  Corpus scriptorum historiae Byzantinae ). Weber, Bonn 1834 ( digitized in the Google book search - Greek: Historia byzantina .).
  • Konstantin Mihajlović (?) [Alleged Ed.]: Memoirs of a Janissary or Turkish Chronicle . Ed .: Renate Lachmann (=  Slavic historian ). Styria, Graz / Vienna / Cologne 1975, ISBN 3-222-10552-9 (Polish: Pamiętniki Janczara .).
  • Georgios Sphrantzes: Annales Georgii Phrantzae . In: Georgius Sphrantzes, Ioannes Cananus, Ioannes Anagnostes - ex recensione Immanuelis Bekkeri (=  Corpus scriptorum historiae Byzantinae ). Weber, Bonn 1838 (Latin, digitized in the Google book search - Greek: Χρονικόν . Translated by Immanuel Bekker ).
  • Georgios Sphrantzes, Makarios Melissourgos : The Fall of the Byzantine Empire . The University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst 1980 (English, Greek: Chronicon Minus / Chronicon Maius . Translated by Marios Philippides, translation of the complete Chronicon Minus, as well as the third book of Chronicon Maius).


  • Franz Babinger : Mehmed the Conqueror and his time . Ed .: William C. Hickman (=  Bollingen Series . Volume 96 ). 2nd Edition. Princeton University Press, Princeton (New Jersey) 1978, ISBN 0-691-09900-6 , pp. 75–101 (English, German: Mehmed the Conqueror and his time: Weltstürmer einer Zeitwende . Translated by Ralph Manheim, compared to the German original edition of 1953, the author and publisher have expanded and revised the edition).
  • Neslihan Asutay-Effenberger, Ulrich Rehm (ed.): Sultan Mehmet II. Conqueror of Constantinople, patron of the arts . Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2009, ISBN 978-3-412-20255-2 .
  • Erich Meuthen: The Fall of Constantinople and the Latin West . In: Historical magazine . tape 237 , Issue 3, 1983, ISSN  0018-2613 , DNB  992146658 , p. 1-35 .
  • David Nicolle : Constantinople 1453. The end of Byzantium . Osprey, Elms Court 2000, ISBN 1-84176-091-9 (English).
  • Marios Philippides , Walter K. Hanak : The Siege and Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Historiography, Topography and Military Studies . Ashgate, Farnham (Burlington) 2011, ISBN 978-1-4094-1064-5 (English).
  • Steven Runciman : The Conquest of Constantinople 1453 . Unabridged special edition, 4th unchanged edition. CH Beck, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-406-02528-5 (English: The Fall of Constantinople 1453. Translated by Peter de Mendelssohn).
  • Ralph-Johannes Lilie : History of the Eastern Roman Empire. 326-1453 . 6th updated edition. CH Beck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-41885-3 , p. 96-106 .

Web links

Commons : Conquest of Constantinople (1453)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. A brief overview of the politico-military situation in the Byzantine late period can be found in Lilie, p. 96 ff.
  2. On the events immediately after Mehmed II came to power cf. Babinger, p. 69 ff.
  3. An overview of the fortress construction and the accompanying circumstances with a differentiated view of the available sources can be found in Philippides / Hanak, pp. 397–413; much more condensed and anecdotal in Babinger, pp. 75–79.
  4. Both Critobulus and Dukas describe the incident with many similarities. A detailed quotation from Dukas can be found in Philippides / Hanak, p. 402 f.
  5. The audience of the Byzantine embassy in front of the Venetian Signoria , described in Nicolò Barbaro, is an example ; a detailed quotation from Barbaros can be found in Philippides / Hanak, p. 401.
  6. A detailed contemporary description of the fortress and the construction work can be found in Kritobulos; see. Philippides / Hanak, p. 405.
  7. Venice was also startled by the activities and was informed of the progress of the work by spies on site, who made a sketch of the facility that has survived to this day.
  8. See Philippides / Hanak, p. 405 f.
  9. Dukas reports that the prisoners informed the emperor that he should release them immediately, because if they did not return to the sultan's camp by sunset at the latest, he would have them beheaded in any case. When the emperor realized that the prisoners would have no value as hostages, he took pity on them and released them immediately. Only a brief description can be found in Philippides / Hanak, p. 407; Babinger (p. 77) gives the description of the dukas in more detail.
  10. Barbaro gives August 31st, Pseudo-Sphrantzes, however, gives August 28th as the day of completion; see. Philippides / Hanak, p. 409 f.
  11. Philippides / Hanak, p. 409 f.
  12. Philippides / Hanak (p. 395) list several successful 'blockade breakthroughs' by Italian galleys for 1452/1453, for example Girolamo Mossini was able to bring two galleys from Caffa through the strait on November 10 , 1452, and Aluvixe succeeded on December 17, 1452 Diedo with a galley from Tana safely to Constantinople, and finally Giacomo Coco with a galley from Trebizond managed to pass on December 4, 1453 .
  13. Dukas reports on the sinking of the Venetian galley (p. 248), who presumably saw the executed crew in Dimotika with his own eyes (cf. Babinger, p. 79; Runciman, p. 71).
  14. See Philippides / Hanak, p. 394.
  15. Of the contemporary witnesses on site, almost only the chroniclers from the environment of the Sultan's court devote themselves to the person Urban. Chalkokondyles is the only Byzantine chronicler to mention his name. Dukas, who worked under Ottoman rule from 1462, describes in detail the work of Urban and the construction of the cannons. Urban seems to be known to the contemporary witnesses staying in Constantinople, but they only mention him as a side note. Nevertheless, its existence can be considered certain. Philippides / Hanak comment in detail on the sources surrounding the person of Urban (pp. 387–396).
  16. This is how Dukas locates his origins in Hungary and Chalkokondyles in Dacia. Texts written much later, on the other hand, also name Denmark, Bohemia, Germany or Serbia as the countries of origin, which, however, does not seem plausible. Babinger (p. 78) follows the description of Chalcocondyle and speaks of a "Transylvanian, deserted from Byzantine service", while Runciman (p. 82) tends to describe the duka and speaks of a "Hungarian technician". Philippides / Hanak (p. 416), based on Urban’s knowledge of the production of bronze cannons, choose Eastern Europe as the place of origin, as the production of iron cannons had been established in Western Europe for several decades.
  17. For example, Dukas writes (English translation after Philippides / Hanak):
    “Long ago this man had come to Constantinople and had indicated his art to the official courtiers of the emperor, who made a report to the emperor. He granted him a salary that was not worthy of this man's science. This technician [received] close to nothing, a worthless salary. So in desparation he left the city one day and he ran to the barbarian [sc. Mehmed II], who received him gladly and gave him food and clothes, in addition to a salary. Had the emperor granted him one fourth of this sum he would not have escaped from Constantinople. "
  18. Against this, for example, the fact that the fortress was planned many months before Urban appeared at the Sultan's court. Since the raw materials for bronze (especially zinc ) were rare and difficult to obtain in the eastern Mediterranean, it is more likely that the manufacture of the cannons used there began much earlier.
  19. The person of Urban and his further fate remains vague in the research literature. Some researchers (such as Asutay-Effenberger, p. 211 f.) Assume that Urban later played an important role at the Sultanshof and even an entire quarter was named after him. Other authors (such as Philippides / Hanak) expressly contradict these theses: “One must not assume that he was rated highly at the Porte. He seems to disappear after the siege [...]. There is no need to assume that he became a principal figure on Mehmed's staff or his chief of artillery. ”(P. 392).
  20. In later times the cannon was given the Greek epithet basilikós (in German: 'royal'), in modern literature it is sometimes simply referred to as the “Constantinople gun”. In fact, the gun did not have a name at the time; contemporary witnesses describe it as a "great bomb", "great cannon", "the monster" or even just "the machine" (see Philippides / Hanak, p. 414 f. And 418) .
  21. According to Critobulus, it consisted of two parts of equal length, with a total length of 40 spans. The scope was twelve spans, the pipe thickness about half a span. Philippides / Hanak translate this information into the Anglo-American system of measurement and use a range of 1.5 to two English feet . Accordingly, they assume an approximate length of 20 to 26.6 feet, a circumference of six to eight feet, and a pipe thickness of six to eight inches (p. 418).
  22. Various eyewitnesses from the besieged Constantinople have described the stone balls. According to Philippides / Hanak (p. 419 f.) - again with information in the Anglo-American system of measurement - Leonardo and Barbaro estimated the weight of the projectiles at around 550 kg (or 1200 pounds ), Benvenuto gives 590 kg (1300 pounds), while Tetaldi she estimates at over 800 kg (1800 pounds).
  23. Up until the first half of the 20th century, a number of the projectiles used in 1453 could be found around the old Theodosian Wall in Istanbul. Philippides and Hanak state that on several excursions from 2000 to 2003 they discovered a projectile from the largest cannon at the original impact site. When measured, they came to a diameter of about 39 inches (less than a meter).
  24. A detailed description of the cannons and the underlying technology based on the available sources can be found in Asutay-Effenberger, p. 212 ff.
  25. Runciman (pp. 86 f.) Briefly summarizes the situation of the powers called for help; a little more detailed about the Turkish campaign on the Peloponnese Babinger (p. 80 f.).
  26. Runciman describes the lengthy negotiations and preparations in Venice and Rome clearly (p. 84 ff.).
  27. Runciman describes the troops that came together to defend the city (p. 87 ff.).
  28. Babinger (p. 83) and Runciman (p. 89) reproduce the figures according to information from Sphrantzes (p. 240), whereby Runciman incorrectly speaks of 4983 Greeks.
  29. Babinger describes the deployment of the Ottoman army (p. 84); scarce runciman (p. 90).
  30. A detailed description and illustration of the city's fortifications can be found in Runciman (pp. 91–95).
  31. Runciman comments on the war machines used by the defenders (p. 97); Babinger (p. 86) also gives a short episode on the difficult use of cannons on the walls.
  32. Information and sources on the defenders' fleet can be found in Runciman, p. 89.
  33. The Chain of Constantinople , in: Travel Guide Istanbul - Your travel guide in Istanbul .
  34. Runciman (p. 81, note 9) clearly summarizes the various sources on the size of the Ottoman army. Babinger (p. 84) assumes that the Ottoman Empire could not bring more than 80,000 men into the field, the numbers given by the chroniclers (Chalkokondyles: 400,000; Dukas: 265,000; Sphrantzes: 258,000; Barbaro: 165,000) are already exhausted to view purely logistical considerations as exaggerated.
  35. A summary of the sources and the importance of the Ottoman fleet can be found in Runciman, p. 79 f.
  36. Runciman (p. 100) briefly describes the last battles in the area around the besieged city.
  37. Barbaro, p. 23.
  38. See Runciman, p. 108.
  39. ^ Renate Lachmann: Memoirs of a Janissary or Turkish Chronicle. Styria Verlag, Graz / Vienna / Cologne 1975, ISBN 3-222-10552-9 , p. 108 f.
  40. Dr. Kevin Pang developed the thesis at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1993 that the natural phenomena described and the poor harvest of 1453 were related to the eruption of the Pacific volcano Kuwae ( JPL press release ). Although not clearly proven, the thesis seems plausible, since global effects of volcanic eruptions such as the year without summer or the eruption of Krakatau are well known.
  41. Gerhard Herm : The Balkans. The powder keg of Europe . Econ Verlag GmbH, Düsseldorf / Vienna / New York / Moscow, 1993, p. 172, ISBN 978-3-430-14445-2
  42. ʿĀşıḳ-Paşa-zāde: Tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̲mān (ʿĀşıḳ-Paşa-zāde Tārīḫi). in: Friedrich Giese (Ed.): The Old Ottoman Chronicle of ʿĀšiḳpašazāde. Released on the basis of several newly discovered manuscripts. Reprint of the 1929 edition. Otto Zeller Verlag, Osnabrück 1972, p. 132.
  43. ^ Translation according to ʿĀşıḳ-Paşa-zāde: From the shepherd's tent to the high gate. The early days and rise of the Ottoman Empire according to the chronicle "Memories and Times of the House of Osman" by the dervish Ahmed, called ʿAşik-Paşa-Son (= Ottoman historians. Volume 3). Second edition. Translated, introduced and explained by Richard F. Kreutel. Styria, Graz / Vienna / Cologne 1959, p. 199.
  44. Georg Ostrogorsky : History of the Byzantine State (= Handbook of Classical Science . Vol. 12,1,2). Third edition, CH Beck, Munich 1963, p. 473.
  45. ^ Franz Georg Maier (ed.): Byzanz (= Fischer Weltgeschichte . Volume 13). Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1973, p. 406.
  46. ^ FA Brockhaus: The Brockhaus in fifteen volumes . Volume 7, Brockhaus in der Wissenmedia, Leipzig / Mannheim 1997, ISBN 978-3-7653-2801-5 , p. 464.
  47. Critobulus of Imbros: Mehmet II conquers Constantinople. The first years of reign of the Sultan Mehmet Fatih, the conqueror of Constantinople in 1453. The history of Critobulus of Imbros (series of Byzantine historians. Volume XVII, edited by J. Koder). Translated, introduced and explained by Dieter Roderich Reinsch, Graz / Vienna / Cologne, 1986, ISBN 978-3-222-10296-7 .
  48. Philippides / Hanak write (p. 232): “No details on the emperor's last stand are known. It is certain, that he was involved in the last phase of the struggle near the fortifications by the Gate of St. Romanos. Presumably, he perhished in the ensuing mêlée but the particulars of his death are shrouded in mystery. A cardinal fact remains: no eyewitness author whose work still survives was anywhere near the emperor at this crucial moment. All members of the imperial retinue were slain and there were no survivors to provide accurate reports. "
  49. Thus Sphrantzes writes: “On May 29, a Tuesday, during the third hour at the beginning of the day, the sultan seized the City. At that time and capture of the City my late master and emperor, Lord Constantine, was killed and perished. I was not at his side at that hour, as, by his command, I was in another part of the City. Alas! Alas! "; English translation after Philippides / Hanak (p. 234) from the Greek original (minus 35.9).
  50. ^ Philippides / Hanak, p. 232.
  51. Among other pusculo.
  52. Ṭursun Beğ: Tārīḫ-i Ebū ʾl-Fetḥ. Annotated print by Halil İnalcık, Rhoads Murphey: The History of Mehmed the Conqueror by Tursun Beg. Minneapolis / Chicago 1978, f. 52b.
  53. See Philippides / Hanak, p. 547 f.
  54. See Philippides / Hanak, p. 549 f.
  55. Only outlined briefly in Meuthen, p. 1; Philippides / Hanak, p. 547 says in somewhat more detail: “So well established was the conviction that Constantinople would survive that news of its fall at first fell upon deaf ears. The west simply could not grasp, let alone comprehend, that the millenial empire had finally expired. The initial reaction in the west to the fall and sack of Constantinople to universal disbelief, which was gradually and slowly transformed into acceptance and public grief. "
  56. See Meuthen, p. 4 ff.
  57. ^ For example, Erasmus von Rotterdam in his work Consultatio de bello Turcis inferendo ; see. Meuthen, p. 29.
  58. See Meuthen, p. 17 f.
  59. See Meuthen, p. 21 ff.
  60. Image description:

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    - Schedelsche Weltchronik