Constantinople, Fall of

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Constantinople, Fall of

On May 29, 1453, Turkish invaders captured the city of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire*. The fall of the city was a significant turning point in history, marking the end of more than 1,000 years of Christian rule and the rise of the Islamic Ottoman Empire.

Named Byzantium by the ancient Greeks, Constantinople lay on the edge of the narrow waterway separating Europe and Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome, made the city his capital in the 300s. Renamed Constantinople in his honor, it became one of the greatest and most magnificent cities of the Middle Ages. After the western part of the Roman Empire collapsed, the city remained the capital of the eastern Byzantine Empire.

In the 1300s the Ottoman Turks emerged as a major power in eastern Europe. In 1394 the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I began an eight-year blockade of Constantinople. The blockade ended only after the Mongol* ruler Tamerlane defeated and captured the sultan. In 1422 another Ottoman sultan, Murad II, led an unsuccessful siege* of the city.

Determined to capture Constantinople, Murad's son, Mehmed II, raised an army of more than 100,000 men and a naval force of more than 100 ships. By this time, the great Byzantine Empire had dwindled to a minor state. The emperor, Constantine XI, had fewer than 7,000 soldiers. Christian leaders in the West tried to send aid, but it arrived too late. Mehmed began a siege of Constantinople on April 6, 1453. The city held out for nearly two months, but on May 29 Mehmed launched a full-scale attack and captured Constantinople.

For several decades, Christians called for a new crusade to take Constantinople back from the Turks. But efforts to organize a crusade failed. Instead, the Ottomans continued on the offensive, seizing several territories in Greece and Italy. The fall of Constantinople ushered in a 250-year period during which the Ottomans threatened to overrun central Europe.

(See alsoChristianity; Greek Émigrés. )

* Byzantine Empire

Eastern Christian empire based in Constantinople (a.d. 476–1453)

* Mongol

member of a central Asian tribe that controlled much of Asia and eastern Europe during the Middle Ages

* siege

prolonged effort to force a surrender by surrounding a fortress or town with armed troops, cutting the area off from aid

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Constantinople, Fall of

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