THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE-END OF AN EMPIRE
The Final assault began after midnight, into the 29th of May 1453.
Wave after wave the attackers charged. Battle cries rang out, the sound of drums, trumpets and fifes, filled the air.
The bells of the city churches began ringing frantically. Orders, screams and the sound of trumpets shattered the night.
First came the irregulars, an unreliable, multinational crowd of Christians and Moslems, who were attracted by the opportunity of enriching themselves by looting the great city, the last capital of the Roman Empire.
They attacked throughout the line of fortifications and they were massacred by the tough professionals, who were fighting under the orders of Giustiniani.
The battle lasted two hours and the irregulars withdrew in disorder, leaving behind an unknown number of dead and wounded.
Next came the Anatolian troops of Ishak Pasha. They tried to storm the stockades and they fought tenaciously, even desperately trying to break through the compact ranks of the defenders.
The narrow area in which fighting went on helped the defenders, as they could hack left and right with their maces and swords and shoot missiles onto the mass of attackers without having to aim.
A group of attackers crashed through a gap and for a moment it seemed that they could enter the city. They were soon assaulted by the Emperor and his men and were slain. The second attack also failed.
But now came the Janissaries, disciplined, professional, ruthless warriors, superbly trained, ready to die for their master, the Sultan.
They assaulted the now exhausted defenders, and they were pushing their way over bodies of dead and dying Moslem and Christian soldiers.
With a tremendous effort the Greek and Italian fighters were hitting back and continued repulsing the enemy.
Then a group of enemy soldiers unexpectedly entered the city from a small sally-port called Kerkoporta, on the wall of Blachernae, where this wall joined the triple wall.
Fighting broke near the small gate with the defenders trying to eliminate those intruders.
It was almost day now, the first light, before sunrise, when a shot fired from a calverin hit Giustiniani. The shot pierced his breastplate and he fell on the ground.
Shaken by his wound and physically exhausted, his fighting spirit collapsed.
Despite the pleas of the Emperor, who was fighting nearby, not to leave his post, the Genoese commander ordered his men to take him out of the battle-field.
A Gate in the inner wall was opened for the group of Genoese soldiers, who were carrying their wounded commander, to come into the city.
The soldiers who were fighting near the area saw the Gate open, their comrades carrying their leader crossing into the city, and they though that the defence line had been broken.
They all rushed through the Gate leaving the Emperor and the Greek fighters alone between the two walls.
This sudden movement did not escape the attention of the Ottoman commanders. Frantic orders were issued to the troops to concentrate their attack on the weakened position.
Thousands rushed to the area.
The stockade was broken.
The Greeks were now squeezed by crowds of Janissaries between the stockade and the wall. More Janissaries came in and many reached the inner wall.
Meanwhile more were pouring in through the Kerkoporta, where the defenders had not been able to eliminate the first intruders.
Soon after, the first enemy flags were seen on the walls.
The Emperor and his commanders were trying frantically to rally their troops and push back the enemy.
It was too late.
Waves of Janissaries, followed by other regular units of the Ottoman army, were crashing through the open Gates, mixed with fleeing and slaughtered Christian soldiers.
Then the Emperor, realizing that everything was lost, removed his Imperial insignia, and followed by his cousin Theophilus Palaeologus, the Castilian Don Francisco of Toledo, and John Dalmatus, all four holding their swords, charged into the sea of the enemy soldiers, hitting left and right in a final act of defiance.
They were never seen again.
Now thousands of Ottoman soldiers were pouring into the city.
One after the other the city Gates were opened.
The Ottoman flags began appearing on the walls, on the towers, on the Palace at Blachernae. Civilians in panic were rushing to the churches.
Others locked themselves in their homes, some continued fighting in the streets, crowds of Greeks and foreigners were rushing towards the port area.
The allied ships were still there and began collecting refugees.
The Cretan soldiers and sailors, manning three towers near the entrance of the Golden Horn, were still fighting and had no intention of surrendering.
At the end, the Ottoman commanders had to agree to a truce and let them sail away, carrying their arms.
The excesses which followed, during the early hours of the Ottoman victory, are described in detail by eyewitnesses.
They were, and unfortunately still is, a common practice, almost a ritual, among all armies capturing enemy strongholds and territory after a prolonged and violent struggle.
Thus, 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 according to tradition.
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 manuscripts 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.
In some distant neighborhoods, especially near the sea walls in the sea of Marmora, such as Psamathia, but also in the Golden Horn at Phanar and Petrion, where local fishermen opened the Gates, while the enemy soldiers were pouring into the city from the land Gates, local magistrates negotiated successfully their surrender to Hamza Bey's officers.
Their act saved the lives of their fellow citizens. Furthermore their churches were not desecrated.
Meanwhile, the crews of the Ottoman fleet abandoned their ships to rush into the city.
They were worried that the land army was going to take everything.
The collapse of discipline gave the Christian ships time to sail out of the Golden Horn.
Venetian, Genoese and Greek ships, loaded with refugees, some of them having reached the ships swimming from the city, sailed away to freedom.
On one of the Genoese vessels was Giustiniani.
He was taken from the boat at Chios where he died, from his wound, a few days later.
The Sultan, with his top commanders and his guard of Janissaries, entered the city in the afternoon of the first day of occupation. Constantinople was finally his and he intended to make it the capital of his mighty Empire.
He toured the ruined city.
He visited Saint Sophia which he ordered to be turned into a mosque.
He also ordered an end to the killing.
What he saw was desolation, destruction, death in the streets, ruins, desecrated churches.
It was too much.
It is said that, as he rode through the streets of the former capital of the Christian Roman Empire, the city of Constantine, moved to tears he murmured:
"What a city we have given over to plunder and destruction".
After the death of Constantine in battle during the fall of Constantinople, he became a legendary figure in Greek folklore as the "Marble Emperor" who would awaken and recover the Empire and Constantinople from the Turks.
the only way the Emperor was later identified was by his Imperial boots. His body was then decapitated and his head sent across Asia Minor to legitimize the victory.
Although it is claimed by some that his corpse was identified after the battle by his purple boots, others claim that the Turks were never able to identify his body, and that the last Roman Emperor was very likely buried in a mass grave alongside his soldiers.
A legend tells that when the Ottomans entered the city, an angel rescued the emperor, turned him into marble and placed him in a cave under the earth near the Golden Gate, where he waits to be brought to life again to conquer the city back for Christians.
While serving as ambassador to Russia in February 1834, Achmet Pacha presented Tsar Nicholas with a number of gifts, including a jewel-encrusted sword supposedly taken from Constantine XI's corpse .
Constantine XI's legacy was used as a rallying cry for Greeks during their war for Independence with the Ottoman Empire. Today the Emperor is considered a national hero in Greece.
During the Balkan Wars and the Greco-Turkish War, under the influence of the Megali Idea the name of the then Greek king used in Greece as a popular confirmation of the prophetic myth about the Marble King who would liberate Constantinople and recreate the lost Empire.
It is said that when Mehmed stepped into the ruins of the Boukoleon, known to the Ottomans and Persians as the Palace of the Caesars, probably built over a thousand years before by Theodosius II, he uttered the famous lines of Persian poetry:
The spider weaves the curtains in the palace of the Caesars;
the owl calls the watches in the towers of Afrasiab.
After the Fall of Constantinople, Mehmed claimed the title of "Caesar" of Rome (Kayser-i Rûm), although this claim was not recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople, or Christian Europe. Mehmed's claim rested with the concept that Constantinople was the seat of the Roman Empire, after the transfer of its capital to Constantinople in 330 AD and the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Mehmed also had a blood lineage to the Byzantine Imperial family, as his predecessors like Sultan Orhan I had married a Byzantine princess. He was not the only ruler to claim such a title, as there was the Holy Roman Empire in Western Europe, whose emperor, Frederick III, traced his titular lineage from Charlemagne who obtained the title of Roman Emperor when he was crowned by Pope Leo III in 800 - although never recognized as such by the Byzantine Empire.
Steven Runciman recounts a story by the Byzantine historian Doukas, known for his colorful and dramatic descriptions,in which Mehmed II, upon the conquest of Constantinople, was said to have ordered the 14-year old son of the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras brought to him for his personal pleasure. When the father refused to deliver his son to such a fate he had them both decapitated on the spot. Another contemporary Greek source, Leonard of Chios, professor of theology and Archbishop of Mytilene, tells the same story in his letter to Pope Nicholas. He describes Mehmed II requesting for the 14 year old handsome youth to be brought "for his pleasure" .
Reference is made to the prospective conquest of Constantinople in an authentic hadith, attributed to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad. "Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!" Ten years after the conquest of Constantinople Mehmed II visited the site of Troy and boasted that he had avenged the Trojans by having conquered the Greeks (Byzantines)