Today in Middle Eastern/European history: the Fall of Constantinople (1453)

The Fall of Constantinople is one of the great milestones in world history, signifying the end of the last vestiges of the Roman Empire and the true ascendance of the Ottoman Empire as a great world power. For world historians, who generally put a period change around the year 1500, it’s one of the markers of the end of the “Medieval” period and the beginnings of the early modern period. To commemorate the day, please enjoy my post on the city’s fall from a couple of years ago:

The Ottomans were not the first Islamic power to threaten the Byzantines, and in fact the Byzantine (Roman, if you prefer) Empire was by this point in 1453 a hollowed out husk of its former glory. Successive waves of Turkish and Mongol invasions had taken almost all of Anatolia out of Byzantine control, and the Ottomans had by this point conquered considerable portions of the empire’s Balkan territories. Constantinople itself, whose population may once have been as high as 800,000 people (500,000 is more realistic), never recovered from the Fourth Crusade’s sacking and the Black Death, and probably only had about 50,000 people living there in 1453. But the city had survived several sieges by Islamic armies (including the Ottomans, pre-Ankara) in the past, because of its seemingly impenetrable walls. Unfortunately for the Byzantines, the Ottomans came prepared with some of the strongest cannons yet invented.

The Ottoman guns were the product of a Hungarian engineer named Orban, or Urban, who initially offered himself to the Byzantines as a maker of massive artillery pieces but, when the impoverished Byzantines told him they couldn’t afford his services, turned around and offered himself to the Ottomans. I guess he wasn’t too wrapped up in the whole religious war aspect of things (though, to be fair, neither were the Byzantines except when it suited them; during a 14th century civil war, the two rival claimants to the throne both sought and received Ottoman help at various points during their struggle). Orban made a cannon so big that it is estimated that it could have shot a 600 pound ball a full mile; it had to be pulled to Constantinople by a team of 60 oxen and eventually fell apart under its own weight. It’s believed that Orban was killed during the siege when another of his large guns exploded.



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