In 49 BC Julius Caesar marched on Rome at the head of an army and plunged the Roman Republic into a civil war. Five years later the new “dictator” was dead, and the Republic with him.
Rome henceforth would be at the heart of an empire, and she expanded her territory massively in he following centuries, coming to dominate Europe and the Middle East. But Rome herself would fall as well: sacked in 406 AD following a series of disastrous civil wars, her territories would be lost seventy years later.
This was not the end of the Roman Empire, however. In the eastern Mediterranean Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, endured and would continue to do so for another millennia. It was only 3 that the sun finally set on the Romans.
By 1453 Constantinople was the capital city that was a shadow of its former glory. By the end of 1453, Constantinople was deeply broken and weakened.
Nevertheless, she rules a vast empire. But all things must come to pass, and it would be the Ottoman Turks who took this golden city in the end. This is the story of her fall, and the end of the Roman Empire.
The Sack of Constantinople
The fall of Constantinople cannot be underemphasized, it was a defining moment in history. It was the beginning of Ottoman dominance by marking the end of the Byzantine Empire in the eastern Mediterranean.
The event that resulted in the sack of Constantinople was multifaceted and complex, involving military, political, and economic factors. Thus, this post highlights some important events that resulted in the Roman Empire’s fall.
Before the Ottomans arrived in the eastern Mediterranean, the Byzantine Empire had already been declining for centuries, overburdened with tradition and policy and increasingly static. Its territories of the region had been steadily destroyed by different groups of invaders, including the dangerous growing power in the region, the Seljuk Turks.
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Many internal conflicts occurred that had also long weakened the Byzantine Empire. For instance, the Great Schism of 1054 was a big conflict that divided the Christian church into two factions: the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
As a result of this weakening position the Byzantine Empire was completely reduced to a fraction of its former size by the end of the 14th century. Constantinople was the capital and was known as a shadow of its former glory with a dwindling population and crumbling walls.
At that time, the emperor John VIII Palaiologos was ruling the Byzantine Empire, who already knew that he required alliances with the West as his Empire was in danger, and he was required to fend off the Ottomans. He turned to his Christian allies, the crusaders.
In 1444, the Treaty of Szeged was signed with Poland and Hungary by the emperor John VIII Palaiologos, resulting in the development of a coalition against the Ottomans. This coalition met with the Turks in battle at Varna the same year, and was crushed.
Emboldened, the Ottomans started expanding their territories in the Balkans. The next Ottoman sultan was Mehmed II, who took the position at the age of 19 in 1451. Mehmed’s dream was to make Constantinople the capital of his Empire.
Mehmed II started preparing for the blockade of Constantinople by fortifying the Dardanelles, building a massive fleet, and constructing a new fortress on the Bosphorus. On April 6, 1453, he began the blockade of Constantinople by attacking from both sea and land with the Ottomans.
At that time, the Byzantines Empire was outgunned and outnumbered with only 7,000 soldiers, which was difficult to defend the city from the Ottoman. The Ottoman force was reckoned to number more than 100,000. Constantinople city was bombarded with cannons, including the “Basilica” (a massive cannon) that had the capacity to fire a 700-pound (300 kg)stone ball.
Even though the Byzantines were in a critical situation, they kept up a fierce resistance. The Byzantines applied different strategies and tactics to slow down the Ottoman advance.
For instance, they launched surprise attacks on the camps of the Ottoman and set fires to block the streets. However, they were too few and the city was too large, and ultimately it was all in vain.
When the time came, the sack of Constantinople was bloody and brutal. The city was pillaged and looted by Ottomans. They also killed thousands of soldiers and civilians in the process.
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The Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, which was known as one the greatest architectural wonders and creatures of the medieval world. The Byzantine Empire was nonexistent in the eastern Mediterranean because the Ottomans came into the dominant power by establishing themselves.
Ultimately, it was inevitable. The Ottomans had the momentum and a well trained, effective army. Against this is decadent and moribund Byzantines were defenseless.
The Loss of an Empire
After the sack of Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire entered into a new phase in modern history. The fall of the city was marked as the end of the Byzantine Empire and left the remainder of the Empire vulnerable and weakened.
However, the Empire had not completely disappeared, not yet. After the city’s fall, the Ottoman Empire immediately took control of many Byzantine territories, including the Balkans, Greece, and Anatolia, to be sure. But until 1461, the city of Trebizond remained under the control of Byzantine. The Byzantine managed even the Despotate of Morea until 1460.
The Byzantine Empire was completely reduced to a former size fraction by the end of the 15th century. Both symbolically and practically, the fall of Constantinople was considered a huge blow.
At that time, the Byzantine Empire struggled to keep its sovereignty and identity in the face of Ottoman aggression. Over some centuries, the Byzantine Empire was under threat from the neighboring states.
They were forced to rely on an alliance with the Kingdom of Hungary and the Venetian Republic to survive. Even though the Byzantine Empire held on notionally for the following decades, by the start of the 16th century she was gone.
Top Image: The fall of Constantinople. Source: Attr. Philippe de Mazerolles / Public Domain.
By Bipin Dimri