In the year 1451, Mehmed II, at 21, ascended to the throne of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans had already bit into the Byzantine Empire, taking Baphaeum, Bursa, Nicaea, Nicomedia, Thrace, Adrianople, Salonika, Kosovo, and the Peloponnese, all in the 14th century. Now, Mehmed prepared to take the heart of the Byzantines.
Previously, the Ottoman Turks would have never stood a chance against the Byzantines. It had been ravaged in 1203 by Venetian Crusaders, and was not regained by the Byzantines until 1263. It was again ravaged by Turks in 1422, but peasant revolt in Turk-held Anatolia forced the Turkish army to return home. However, these events had weakened Constantinople's defense, and only 7,000 warriors stood on the walls. The Ottoman Army consisted of over 150,000 troops. The Turks were also equipped with cannon made by the renegade Hungarian engineer Urban, the largest cannon being a monstrous 26 feet long, weighing 1,200 pounds, the largest cannon used in battle of its time.
On April 18, 1453, Mehmed II gave the Islamic traditional offer of surrender to Emperor Constantine XI Palaeologus, the last Byzantine Emperor. It was rejected, and the Ottoman guns opened fire. They would not stop for nine weeks. The first attack, when thousands of men attempted to burn one of the stockades in the walls, was repelled by Giovanni Giustiani, the Genoan general that had been made commander of the defending forces. Giustiani's men beat off the Turks for four hours, when the Turks retreated.
On April 20, the Ottoman fleet attacked four supply ships intended for the harbor. This should have been an easy victory for the Turks, thanks to their superior numbers of ships. However, the Byzantine fleet beat off the Turk fleet, and escaped within the Golden Horn, Constantinople's natural harbor. This was protected by a chain raised up out of the water that blocked ships from getting past. Mehmed was furious at his admiral, Baltoghlu, for letting such an opportunity slip away, and had him beheaded. He replaced him with Hamza Bey. Mehmed had already decided that he would have to nullify the Byzantine naval advantage to win the siege. This defeat strengthened his conviction.
He had laborers build a road between the entrance to the Golden Horn and the walls to his encampment. He would carry his ships on wooden platforms into the harbor. On April 22, seventy Turk ships entered the port. The Byzantines attempted to burn the ships on April 28. However, this attempt failed miserably, and the Byzantine fleet ended up severely damaged. Luckily for Constantinople, their navy recovered quickly, and successfully neutralized the Turkish capture of the Golden Horn. However, this showed that Mehmed could outsmart the enemy within the walls.
On land, the gigantic bombardment on the walls continued, and every night, the Byzantines rushed out to fix up the walls. Giustiani successfully repelled attacks on his weakened areas on both May 7 and May 12. Yet, the defenses on land were being stretched to their breaking point. The sheer numbers of the Turks were beginning to assert themslves.
May 23, bad news arrived in Constantinople. The ship that had been sent out to search for the Italian reinforcements believed to be arriving via the Aegean Sea returned. It reported that no assistance was arriving. Indeed, Venice was still debating over whether to send a fleet at this point. No help would come in time to save the city.
Mehmed was growing tired of this long, drawn-out siege. He decided to make a huge assault on May 29. He told his troops that success was assured, that the defenders were tired, the walls were knocked down in some areas, and a general assualt throughout the city, on land and sea, would snap the line into pieces, and the city would be flooded with Turks.
After midnight of the 28th, the attack began. First, the irregulars, a swarm of profiteering Christians and Moslems from other tribes, attacked the walls. They were slaughtered by the professional Byzantines on the walls, led by Giustiani. The Anatolians next attempted to break through the defenses. This more organized fighting force successfully opened a gap within the defenders. However, the Emperor, and his personal guard filled the gap, and the penetrating force was slain.
The Janissaries, the ruthless, well organized battalion made up of captured Christian children who were turned into a unit fanatically commited to Islam and the Sultan, struck next. They began to push through the now exhausted defenders, and at the Kerkoporta, where the single wall of the harbor joined the triple wall of the main city, a group of Janissaries broke through the gate and mad their way into the wals. Defenders were rushed to the Kerkoporta to destroy the intruders. This weakened the entire defense.
Soon afterwards, at dawn, Giustiani was hit by gunshot. He requested to be carried off the field, but when he was, his soldiers thought a retreat had been called, and some fell back. The Ottomans jumped on this opportunity. They attacked the retreating army and broke through the stockade. The soldiers who had not retreated were now stuck between the Janissaries and the wall. They were quickly eliminated.
The defenses were broken, and the inner walls breached. At the Kerkoporta, the defenses were gone, and the outer wall was taken. The Emperor's entourage once attempted to fill the gap, but this time, it went to no avail. Constantine, realizing that all was lost, removed his Imperial insignia, and charged into a mass of enemies. This was the last that was seen of the final Byzantine emperor.
With the exception of a group of Cretan sailors who holed up in the harbor towers and forced a truce with the enemy, and were allowed to leave, the majority of the population was killed. The greatest city in the world was sacked, pillaged, and mostly destroyed. Mehmed himself stated "What a city we have given over to plunder and destruction."
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