Constantinople - Capital Of The Byzantine Empire

  Category: Byzantium
29 May 1453 is the worst day for the Roman Empires in Europe and Asia.
The Roman Empire of Byzantium, the ark of Culture for more than 1000 years, collapsed when the armies of the Sultan of Turks assaulted the proud capital.

In her brilliant history, the Roman Empire of Byzantium had a beneficial role for the European civilization:

1.She was the rampant of Europe against the innumerable efforts of Asiatic peoples to infiltrate in the European continent.

2. She was the cultural bridge between the ancient classic Greek culture and the modern western culture. It was Byzantine intellectuals who in 15th century taught Europeans about Plato, Aristotle etc, having copied their works previously.

3. She created a brilliant self-luminous culture, the Greek-Orthodox (Romiosine or Romania) culture of Middle Ages. When Europeans were dressed in rawhides, Byzantines were dressed in silk costumes and their women wore golden adornments, the Emperors preferred purple robes above all. When Europeans lived in straw huts, Byzantines lived in mansions.

4. She propagated the Christianity and in particular Orthodoxy, which in the Byzantium was shaped in her Greek form, in a pleiad of pagan nations.

5. She laid the foundations for the humanitarian, social sciences, the law, the systematic study of history, the rise of monasticism and the missionary activity.

6. She created masterpieces in painting, architecture, literature, music etc.

The Fall of Constantinople is a disaster but it is also one of the heroic pages of Greek History, where a handful of men were sacrificed for their values and ideas.

The answer of Constantine Palaeologos Constantine Palaeologos: "The residents and I have decided not to deliver the city, it is our common decision to die all of us and not to spare our life", simply raises the persons from their individual level to their national level. They leave behind their egoistic and individualistic humble instincts, and fight for their religion, their fatherland and their family.

Constantine Palaeologus
The capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the city that was identified with the life of Byzantine empire, was founded by the Roman Constantine I, in the place where was the city of Byzantion (built in 657 B.C. by Byzas), and it signaled with her presence, important changes in the Eastern region of Mediterranean. The city was founded on 8 November 324 and it was inaugurated on 11 May 330. The capital was named New Rome Nea Romi and later was renamed Constantinople Konstantinoupolis. The Eastern Roman Empire contained lands such as Pontus, Minor Asia, Macedonia, Thrace, Aegean islands etc, which were inhabited since thousands years before, mainly by greek populations. So it was inevitable that the power of this state would pass one day under the Greek control.

The residents refused to be called Greeks "Hellenes", because Greek meant for them pagan. And while the Europeans used to call the byzantine emperor, "Greek king", the Byzantines used to call him emperor of Romans, because this title meant prestige and glory for their state. During the Ottoman slavery, the Greeks continued to call themselves "Romeos" and it was after the Greek Revolution of 1821, that the name "Hellen" started to replace the name "Romeos".

Konstantinoupolis, the largest city of the middle ages. A city with thousands churches, palaces and monasteries. The orphanages, hospitals and public baths are evidence of the interest for the feeblest members of society. Most houses had tanks with water and all gave big importance in the hygiene. Her population reached more than 1 million the time of prosperity. The main road of the city had orientation from the East to the West and there was the market or "Foros", in the centre of which was placed a pillar from porphyry, in the top of which was placed an oversized statue of the emperor Meghas Konstantinos. The head of statue was turned to the east and from this orientation emanates also his name as "Anthilion".

The emperor Valens "Oualis" adorned the capital with the homonym aqueduct, while Theodosius I added a new forum which brought his name. Often it was called forum Tauri "Tavrou Foros". In the centre of the square it was placed a column, where were recounted the military triumphs of emperor. On the top existed a silver statue of Theodosius. The emperor Arkadios added a new forum that brought his name and was found in the axis of the road that led to the Golden Gate "Chryse Pyle". Near this forum it was the Foros of ox "Vous" that was named after a bronze statue of ox, which had come from Pergamon.
Map of Constantinople
The main road of city was called Medium road "Mesi Odos". It started from Charisius's Gate from the west and terminated to the "Milion" in the east. There was a square that was called "Avgousteonas", which was columned with double order of columns. Round this square existed the Holy Palace "Ieron Palation", the church of "Saint Sofia" and the hippodrome. The road from the Golden gate to the Milion was the "Via Triumphalis".

The Holy Palace was a complicated architectural structure. Every emperor used to make additions. There existed innumerable rooms, temples, kiosks, libraries, barracks, offices, even prisons. All these inside tall walls, were guarded by the imperial guard. Apart from the buildings existed also lakes, gardens with innumerable species of birds. The Ieron Palation was the residence of the ministers and the dignitaries. The Hrysotriklinos was the room where the emperor accepted the envoys. The room had golden mosaics and polychrome paintings. There happened certain things that impressed the visitors. While the visitor approached the emperor, the throne rose little by little and golden lions next to the throne, began to shake their tail and to roar. In this room existed golden and silver trees, and on their branches, golden birds embelished with precious stones, diamonds and sapphires, sang. Other famous palaces were the palace of Vlahernae, that was the residence of emperors during the era of Komninos, and the palace of Voykoyleon, which had a small harbour for the members of the royal family.

Unfortunately today in Istanbul, minimal monuments have survived and their traces are located mainly in the historical sources. The city had big sufficiency of water supplies. The public springs were called "Nymphaea". The most famous open cisterns "Kinsternes" were: Aetioy, Asparos, Aghiou Mokiou, Evdomou and Iereas. The closed cisterns reported are: cistern of Vonoy, Modestoy, Arkadiou, meghiste, the Poylherias, Aghias Sophias, Ierou Palatiou, Sfendonis, the Theodosioy, the Hrysoroi, the Pammakaristoy, the Pantokratoros, the Myrelaioy, in the palace of Votanejati, the Saint Gewrgjoy of Magganwn, in the palace Magganwn, Saint Ioannis of Stoydjoy, the Magnavras etc.

The most impressive of all were the land walls of Polis, which were constructed by Theodosius II, Meghas Theodosius. The length was 7 kilometres. The wall was mainly erected in a height of 9 metres, had width 4.5 metres and was interrupted by 96 square or polygonal towers. The total manufacture constituted by five parts: the ditch, the surrounding ring, the outside wall, second surrounding ring and the internal or big wall. Eight, or eleven big gates led to the city from the side of hinterland. These gates were the Golden gate, the gate of Zwodohoy, the gate of Kalagroy, the gate of Polyandrioy, the gate of Saint Romanos, the Pemptou, the gate of Harjsioy, the gate of Xylokerkoy and the Kerkoporta. From the palace of Vlahernae to the Holy palace, (by Keratius) the sea wall was simple and had height 10 metres. The Gates that existed in this part were 14. From the Holy Palace to the Golden gate (by Sea of Marmara) there were 8 kilometres coastal walls.

Land walls

The big construction activity in the "Queen of the Cities" "Vasilevousa" continued and in the next years the climax of activity was during the period of Ioustinianos. The general impression which caused the sight of the capital of state was dazzling. According to the description of Steven Runciman, the traveller that came from the sea, first saw the huge palace, with his tiled roofs. Also, the dome of Saint Sofia was distinguished, while extensive gardens reached at the beach and the sea wall. In the beach of the Sea of Marmara was the harbour of the palace and near it the church of Saint Serghios and Vakhos. Behind one could see the valley of Lycos river, in which existed gardens with fruit-bearing trees and fields. Above on the hill dominated the church of Saint Apostles. Outside the walls existed however over-populated suburbs. From the side of Golden Horn or Keratius the aspect of the city was different. There were numerous docks where the thousands small and bigger boats were anchored. Behind were a lot of small gates that led to the commercial districts. There the number of residences was much bigger. On the north it was constructed the palace of Vlahernae and the church of Panaghia ton Vlaxernon.

The Byzantine capital was besieged many times by various enemies, who all wanted to plunder her innumerable treasures. Goths, Persians, Avars, Arabs, Bulgarians, Russians, Normans, Franks, Venetians, Serbs tried to conquer her. In 1204 the Crusaders (French, Germans, Belgians and Germans), entered in the City. The price was very heavy, because the invaders seized and destroyed all the treasures of the City, all the work of art, while at the same time they destroyed a big number of temples, monuments, statues, books and others. The City was thus weakened considerably also even if the Greeks reoccupied their Holy City in 1261 under Michael Palaeologus. They kept her for 200 years, but in 1453 she was conquered this time by a Moggolian tribe, the Ottoman Turks. A lot of historians wrote, that the City would never fall in the hands of Turks, if the Crusaders had not disintegrate the Greek Empire.

Constantinople was the most over-populated city of the medieval world. The City was divided in 14 districts. It had more than 500 large churches. The most famous were Saint Sofia, the church of Apostles, (Saint Mark of Venice is an exact copy of that church), Aghia Irene, Saints Petros and Mark, Saints Serghios and Vakhos, Pantokrator, Virgin Mary of Moyhliotissa in Phanar and many others. The conquerors however did not respect the byzantine heritage. They stole everything precious and converted most of the churches to mosques, others were used as stables or barracks and the rest were totally demolished. One can see the hatred to the old civilization even today. Even in the year 2004, hundreds of precious byzantine icons were found abandoned and moldy in stores near the church of Saint Sophia and were thrown as rubbish.

On 29 May 1453, Black Tuesday, Constantinople fell. The Emperor Constantine XI Palaeologus died as a hero, refusing treasures and lands offered by the enemy. Constantinos, a national martyr, is the subject of myths by the greek people. Stories have been told of the Marble Emperor where Constantinos is said to have been rescued by an Angel and that he will sleep until he returns to chase the Turks from Constantinople to the Red Apple Tree "Kokkini Milia".

"I sent two birds to the red apple tree, of which the legends speak. One was killed, the other was hurt, and they never came back to me. Of the marble emperor there is no word, no talk. But grandmothers sing about him to the children like a fairy tale. I sent two birds, two house martins, to the red apple tree. But there they stayed and became a dream.. "
Popular Song

"God forbid that I should live an Emperor without an Empire. As my city falls, I will fall with it.
Whoever wished to escape, let him save himself if he can; and whoever is ready to face death, let him follow me!"
The Crescent and the Cross by David Dereksen

"Constantine told his hearers that the great assault was about to begin. To his Greek subjects he said that a man should always be ready to die for his faith or for his country or for his family or for his sovereign. Now his people must be prepared to die for all four causes. He spoke of the glories and the high traditions of the great imperial city. He spoke of the perfidy of the infidel Sultan who had provoked the war in order to destroy the true faith and to put his false prophet in the seat of Christ. He urged them to remember that they were the descendants of the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome and to be worthy of their ancestors. For his part, he said, he was ready to die for his faith, his city, and his people. He then turned to the Italians, thanking them for the great services that they had rendered and telling of his trust in them for the fighting that was to come. He begged them all, Greeks and Italians alike, not to fear the vast numbers of the enemy and the barbarous devices of fires and of noise designed to alarm them. Let their spirits be high; let them be brave and steadfast. With the help of God they would be victorious."
From Steven Runciman's the Fall of Constantinople 1453

"Mehmet was said to have sent himself four hundred Greek children as a gift to each of the leading Moslem potentates of the time, the Sultan of Egypt, the King of Tunis, and the King of Grenada. Many Greek families were never to be reunited."
From the Fall of Constantinople 1453 by Steven Runciman

"As soon as the Turks were inside the city, they began to seize and enslave every person who came their way; all those who tried to offer resistance were put to the sword. In many places the ground could not be seen, as it was covered by heaps of corpses. There were unprecedented events; all sorts of lamentations, countless rows of slaves consisting of noble ladies, virgins, and nuns, who were being dragged by the Turks by their headgear, hair, and braids out of the shelter of Churches, to the accompaniment of mourning. There was the crying of children, the looting of our sacred and holy buildings. What horror can such sounds cause!
Our greatest and holiest Church of Saint Sophia, the earthly heaven, the throne of God's glory, the vehicle of the cherubim and second firmament, God's creation, such edifice and monument, the joy of all earth, the beautiful and more beautiful than the beautiful became a place of feasting; its inner sanctum was turned into a dining room, its holy altars supported food and wine, and were also employed in the enactment of their perversions with our women, virgins, and children"
The Fall of the Byzantine Empire, A chronicle by George Sphrantzes translated by Marios Phillipides

"Breaking down the doors with axes, the Turks entered the Church and dragged the fugitives off to slavery. Two by two, the men were tied together with cords, the women with belts, without consideration for age or station. Scenes of indescribable horror ensued. The statues of sainst were shorn of their jewels and smashed. The gold and silver Church vessels were seized, the altar cloths used for caparisons. Topped with a Janissary's cap, the crucifix was paraded in mockery. The conquerors used the altars as tables; when they themselves had finished eating on them, they turned them over to the horses for feed troughs or used them as beds on which to assault boys and girls".
The Turks in Hagia Sophia from Mehmet the Conqueror and his time by Franz Babinger

Constantine Paleologos