|Fig.1: No, you can't go back to Constantinople! So stop asking!
Constantinople was technically founded in 330 Anno Doughnutty by the Roman Emperor Constantine (who, in all his narcissism, named it after himself), but it was really the site of the Ancient Greek city of Byzantium. That's like me going to Pittsburgh and saying, "I'm going to build an even better city here!" Which wouldn't be hard, cause it's Pittsburgh, but still, not cool. Anyway, Constantinople served as the capital of the eastern half of the Roman Empire, but then it became the only capital when Rome itself was bombarded with barbaric barbarians. Historians like to refer to the empire that Constantinople was centered around as the Byzantine Empire, to distinguish it from the Roman Empire and make it less confusing. But the Byzantines saw themselves as the Roman Empire, and in a sense, they were a continuation of the Roman Empire. So good job making things more confusing, you stupid historians! The nerve of those people (present company excluded, of course)!
|Fig.2: The Great East-West Schism, as reenacted
by Messrs. Peter and Bobby Brady.
Which was a problem, given the enemy on Constantinople's heels. The Ottoman Empire started out like any other small Islamic kingdom in Turkey: broke away from a larger power, attempted to create legitimacy through farfetched stories of crazy dreams and doctored family trees, and just refused to play nice with their neighbors. The difference is that the Ottomans were pretty darn good at taking over other lands, and they became the head-honcho in Turkey by the mid-14th century. They even managed to conquer sections of the Balkans in Europe previously under Byzantine hands, reducing the Empire to a tiny section surrounding Constantinople (fig.3). Every Christian knew that the Ottomans would not rest until the city was theirs, but Catholics just couldn't get over that leavened bread thing, and many kingdoms refused to send aid to the Byzantines. On the other hand, the Orthodox Byzantines liked to say that would rather be ruled by "the Sultan's turban than by the Pope's mitre," to which the Catholics would respond, "I know you are, but what am I?" proving that Europe in the Middle Ages was ruled by ten-year-olds.
|Fig.4: The Siege as Constantinople, as animated by the
same guy who did those transition scenes in "Monty
Python and the Holy Grail."
Unfortunately, if this was "Let's Make a Deal," that choice would have been a Zonk. On May 29, the all-out assault on the city began, and eventually the Ottomans broke through the wall like little Kool-Aid Men. Legend has it that Constantine then threw off his royal purple robe and ran into the streets to join the fray. Some say he died with his soldiers, some say he eventually hung himself, and some say he somehow escaped the city and is hiding out with Elvis, Tupac, and Andy Kaufman to this day. Constantinople now belonged to the Ottomans, and they were allowed the customary three days of All-You-Can-Pillage-And-Plunder, which is how I think birthdays should be celebrated, but nooooo. By all accounts, the Ottomans treated the Byzantines better in the aftermath of the siege of 1453 than the Crusaders did in 1204 (this might be because Muslims and Orthodox Christians are on the same side of the very testy leavened bread issue), and Sultan Mehmed even made churches, monasteries, and factories where they produce those Christian fish bumper stickers off-limits to the marauding soldiers.
|Fig.5: Mehmed the Conqueror was
definitely a more intimidating
nickname than Mehmed the Pretty
Many will say that the Fall of Constantinople was an all-around bad thing for Europe and Christianity. The Muslim Ottomans now had a clear shot to the rest of Europe, and indeed they did attack major cities like Vienna several times. But I will argue that, in the long run, Europe emerged more successful with the Ottomans on their tails. Greek intellectuals who escaped the siege and subsequent takeover of their homeland found nice comfy homes in Western Europe, and their teachings and culture may have initiated the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Greek life at your local university. Also, with the hostile Ottomans in the way, Europeans had to find a new way to get to India and obtain those beloved spices they now couldn't live without. This is why explorers (like some guy named Cristoforo Colombo) went exploring across the Atlantic, and just so happened to find another chunk of land to
1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, by Roger Crowley
Published: 2005; Paperback: 320 pages
Canned Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Orthodox Crosses