Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Fall of Constantinople, 29 May 1453

This essay is included as a prefatory article in my book, Facing Islam: What the Ancient Church has to say about the Religion of Muhammad.

The Fall of Constantinople, 29 May 1453
by  Dionysios Hatzopoulos   

In the city everyone realized that the fateful moment had come. In the city, while the bells of the churches rang mournfully, citizens and soldiers joined a long procession behind the holy relics brought out of the churches. Singing hymns, men, women, children, soldiers, civilians, clergy, monks and nuns, knowing that they were going to die shortly, made peace with themselves, with God and with eternity.

When the procession ended the Emperor met with his commanders and the notables of the city. In a philosophical speech he told his sub- jects that the end of their time had come. In essence he told them that Man had to be ready to face death when he had to fight for his faith, for his country, for his family or for his sovereign. All four reasons were now present. Furthermore, his subjects, who were the descendants of Greeks and Romans, had to emulate their great ancestors. They had to fight and sacrifice themselves without fear. They had lived in a great city and they were now going to die defending it. As for himself, he was going to die fighting for his faith, for his city and for his people... He thanked all present for their contribution to the defense of the city and asked them to forgive him, if he had ever treated them without kindness. Meanwhile the great church of Saint Sophia was crowded. Thousands of people were moving towards the church. Inside, Orthodox and Catholic priests were holding mass. People were singing hymns, others were openly crying, others were asking each other for forgiveness. Those who were not serving on the ramparts also went to the church, among them was seen, for a brief moment, the Emperor. People confessed and took communion. Then those who were going to fight rode or walked back to the ramparts.

From the great church the Emperor rode to the Palace at Blachernae. There he asked his household to forgive him. He bade the emotionally shattered men and women farewell, left his Palace and rode away, into the night, for a last inspection of the defense positions. Then he took his battle position.

The excesses which followed, during the early hours of the Ottoman victory, are described in detail by eyewitnesses... 

Bands of soldiers began now looting. Doors were broken, private homes were looted, their tenants were massacred. Shops in the city markets were looted. Monasteries and Convents were broken in. Their tenants were killed, nuns were raped, many, to avoid dishonor, killed themselves. Killing, raping, looting, burning, enslaving, went on and on... The troops had to satisfy themselves. The great doors of Saint Sophia were forced open, and crowds of angry soldiers came in and fell upon the unfortunate worshippers. Pillaging and killing in the holy place went on for hours. Similar was the fate of worshippers in most churches in the city. Everything that could be taken from the splendid buildings was taken by the new masters of the Imperial capital. Icons were destroyed, precious manu- scripts were lost forever. Thousands of civilians were enslaved, soldiers fought over young boys and young women. Death and enslavement did not distinguish among social classes. Nobles and peasants were treated with equal ruthlessness.

The Sultan entered the city in the afternoon of the first day of occupation. Constantinople was finally his and he intended to make it the capi- tal of his mighty Empire. He toured the ruined city. He visited Saint Sophia which he ordered to be turned into a mosque. What he saw was desolation, destruction, death in the streets, ruins, desecrated churches...

Dionysios Hatzopoulos — Professor of Classical and Byzantine Studies, and Chairman of Hellenic Studies Center at Dawson College, Montreal, and Lecturer at the Department of History at Universite de Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Posted on Romiosini: Hellenism In The Middle Ages