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The Siege of Constantinople

The Siege of Constantinople



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Siege of Constantinople (717–718)

The second Arab siege of Constantinople in 717–718 was a combined land and sea offensive by the Muslim Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate against the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. The campaign marked the culmination of twenty years of attacks and progressive Arab occupation of the Byzantine borderlands, while Byzantine strength was sapped by prolonged internal turmoil. In 716, after years of preparations, the Arabs, led by Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik, invaded Byzantine Asia Minor. The Arabs initially hoped to exploit Byzantine civil strife and made common cause with the general Leo III the Isaurian, who had risen up against Emperor Theodosius III. Leo, however, tricked them and secured the Byzantine throne for himself.

After wintering in the western coastlands of Asia Minor, the Arab army crossed into Thrace in early summer 717 and built siege lines to blockade the city, which was protected by the massive Theodosian Walls. The Arab fleet, which accompanied the land army and was meant to complete the city's blockade by sea, was neutralized soon after its arrival by the Byzantine navy through the use of Greek fire. This allowed Constantinople to be resupplied by sea, while the Arab army was crippled by famine and disease during the unusually hard winter that followed. In spring 718, two Arab fleets sent as reinforcements were destroyed by the Byzantines after their Christian crews defected, and an additional army sent overland through Asia Minor was ambushed and defeated. Coupled with attacks by the Bulgars on their rear, the Arabs were forced to lift the siege on 15 August 718. On its return journey, the Arab fleet was almost completely destroyed by natural disasters and Byzantine attacks.

The siege's failure had wide-ranging repercussions. The rescue of Constantinople ensured the continued survival of Byzantium, while the Caliphate's strategic outlook was altered: although regular attacks on Byzantine territories continued, the goal of outright conquest was abandoned. Historians consider the siege to be one of history's most important battles, as its failure postponed the Muslim advance into Southeastern Europe for centuries.


Medieval Military History | The Siege & Downfall Of The Great City Constantinople

Constantinople is a beautiful city that was founded by Roman Emperor Constantine I in 324 CE. The city served as the capital for the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire. It has faced many sieges and attacks throughout the years but managed to remain standing. The city had once been the most heavily fortified places in the world.

Located in what is now modern day Istanbul, Constantinople was a wealthy and thriving Christian port. This being due to its ideal location between European and Asian empires. The port making it a valuable harbor for trade and expansion of prominent countries. The cities religion, art, and military thrived due to trade for many years and Constantinople has been highly recognized for its magnificent architecture and rich history.

Invaders had attacked the city countless times before but found Constantinople impossible to defeat. The walls of the city had been built to defend against both land and sea campaigns. Switching between layers of brick and stone, the wall is a sturdy structure that create two lines of defense meeting at a ditch. The construction is around five meters thick and twelve meters high making it close to forty feet tall at the time of its creation. The strategic wall also came with nearly a hundred towers with battlement terraces on the top of each one. The architecture features a defensive moat that could easily be flooded when needed situated about fifty feet away from the walls.

The more noteworthy attacks on Constantinople were made when the Arabs attempted to defeat the city around 1674 and 1678 CE. The Arabs among several other adversaries such as the Slavs had tirelessly tried to win in battle. The city managed to defend itself against incoming enemies time after time. According to historian Mike Cartwright in his article on the fall of Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire was no stranger to sieges due to having faced many foes throughout its history. Cartwright wrote:

“Constantinople had withstood many sieges and attacks over the centuries, notably by the Arabs between 674 and 678 CE and again between 717 and 718 CE. The great Bulgar Khans Krum (r. 802-814 CE) and Symeon (r. 893-927 CE) both attempted to attack the Byzantine capital, as did the Rus (descendants of Vikings based around Kiev) in 860 CE, 941 CE, and 1043 CE, but all failed. Another major siege was instigated by the usurper Thomas the Slav between 821 and 823 CE. All of these attacks were unsuccessful thanks to the city’s location by the sea, its naval fleet, and the secret weapon of Greek Fire (a highly inflammable liquid), and, most importantly of all, the protection of the massive Theodosian Walls.”

The Byzantine Empire found itself in a very precarious position surrounded by enemies on all sides. The Bulgarians to start with had grown and now matched their rivals in power and military strength. To make matters worse, the Serbian Empire had been conquering Byzantines lands from the west. The Emperors of Byzantine rushed to come up with a plan to defend their empire. There was no time to waste with the Turks, a very dangerous enemy now raiding the country. Constantinople and its occupants faced many foes. The Emperors relied on aid to provide for the soldiers defending and fighting for their lands.

In an article written by historian William McLaughlin, the Byzantine Empire had been struggling for quite a while against the opposition. The empire did not have a claim to lots of territories anymore and was run down by constant problems. McLaughlin writes:

“Though the Empire again held Constantinople after recovering it from the Fourth Crusade, it was far from the power it had been in the early medieval period. At the time of Michael VIII’s reclamation of Constantinople, the Byzantine territories were confined to Thrace and northern Greece and a part of Western Turkey. The Turks had taken territory in Asia Minor up to the territory of Nicomedia in the north and near to the island of Rhodes in the south. A more sophisticated threat by this time, the Bulgarian Empire, and the Serbian Empires fought against the Byzantines as well. The city itself was greatly weakened by the Black Death and a large earthquake as well as civil wars that divided the populace. Under the Palaiologoi dynasty established after the reclamation of Constantinople, the empire became a shadow of its former self while a new eastern power set its sights on the great city.”

The Byzantines needed the leaders of Europe to assist and protect them. They requested support from the Roman Catholic Church by appealing directly to the pope but they would not receive help without certain demands being met. The cost was Byzantine converting to Catholicism. This logically might have been something easily met however, the people of Byzantine would hear none of it. The emperors were more than willing to pay this price in order to get protection but it wasn’t to be so.

The western Civilization ER Services report that the people would not budge.

“Against all these enemies, the Byzantines could only look west in search of help. The pope, however, continued to stress that aid would only come if the Byzantines adopted the Catholicism of the Latin church. While the Byzantine emperors were willing to do so in order to save their empire, the populace hated the Catholics for the sack of Constantinople, and so attempts to reconcile with the Catholic Church only led to riots. Further theological disagreements inflamed the bitterness between the Orthodox and the Catholics. This was not acceptable for most Byzantines. A popular saying at the time was “Better the Turkish turban than the Papal tiara.” In other words, the Orthodox Byzantines considered it better to be ruled by the Muslim Turks than to go against their religious beliefs and give in to the Catholic Church. Still, the emperors realized that Byzantium would soon fall without help from the west.”

The disagreements definitely presented obstacles for getting aid from the west to Byzantine. The Bishops of Byzantine and Emperor John VIII Palaiologos managed to make an agreement and bring about a resolution. They successfully converted religions per the Pope’s wishes in 1439 CE however, upon their return home, there was definitely trouble brewing. Their own people began attacking them right on the streets and riots broke up. It was pure chaos when they returned to the empire. The deal had provoked in the masses nothing but violence and discontent. The disapproval was felt harshly.

The Byzantine Empire was declining as the Ottoman Empire grew and dominated the world around their lands. The empire had begun as a small Turkish country but managed to conquer those weaker in order to grow. Mark Cartwright in his article about the siege of Constantinople explains the Ottoman Empire’s exploits in full detail:

“By the early 14th century CE, the Ottomans had already expanded into Thrace. With their capital at Adrianople, further captures included Thessaloniki and Serbia. In 1396 CE, at Nikopolis on the Danube, an Ottoman army defeated a Crusader army. Constantinople was the next target as Byzantium teetered on the brink of collapse and became no more than a vassal state within the Ottoman Empire. The city was attacked in 1394 CE and 1422 CE but still managed to resist. Another Crusader army was defeated in 1444 CE at Varna near the Black Sea coast. Then the new Sultan, Mehmed II (r. 1451-1481 CE), after extensive preparations such as building, extending, and occupying fortresses along the Bosporus, notably at Rumeli Hisar and Anadolu in 1452 CE, moved to finally sweep away the Byzantines and their capital.”

Mehmed II would go down in history known as the conqueror. The sultan’s life is a very interesting one and far from average. As heir to the Ottoman throne, Mehmed was well educated. He had lived in Amaysa where he governed and obtained the experience to rule. The prince had numerous teachers and advisers at his disposal. Mehmed was the son of Murat II and would for a time become a ruler at the young age of twelve. Murat II had decided to abdicate his throne to the boy in 1444 CE.

The young new sultan faced many challenges during his early reign but somehow managed to be triumphant in crushing down a crusade directed by János Hunyadi shortly after the Hungarians started to break an established treaty at the Catholic Church’s insistence by entering Ottoman lands. The church was against the Muslim religion. It was at this point Mehmed sought to convince his father to return to the throne. Murat had no desire to do so, and this posed a problem for the young boy. He wrote to Murat and demanded his homecoming in a compelling letter that said:

“If you are the Sultan, come and lead your armies. If I am the Sultan I hereby order you to come and lead my armies.”

The ploy worked as intended by Mehmed because his father Murat II proved quite successful during the Battle of Varna in 1444 CE. The man’s return to his throne proved inevitable. He would rule until his death in 1451 CE. This once again placed the throne in Mehmed’s hands. The boy had grown into a man and was nineteen years old when he once again reigned over the Ottoman Empire. The sultan wasted absolutely no time in expanding his empire. Mehmed began plotting taking over the Byzantines by conquering the city of Constantinople. Preparations for a siege were officially underway.

The siege of Byzantine’s capital city of Constantinople took place in 1453 CE and would last for almost two months. The forces in the empire made up about ten-thousand men and this gave Mehmed’s armies a great advantage. The Byzantines were outnumbered and unprepared. The Ottoman’s had over a hundred thousand men at their side willing to fight. They arrived not only ready to win but supplied with advanced weaponry and tactics. Mehmed had equipped the army with cannons that were able to destroy the wall rather rapidly and warships able to patrol the sea surrounding Constantinople providing control of the waters to the Ottomans preventing aid to reach the Byzantine Empire.

Reports from the Russia and Eastern Europe Web Chronology Project indicate that Constantinople was absolutely devastated by the Ottomans. The defenders were unable to stop the invasion Mehmed and his army was determined to complete.

“After using his heavy artillery to form a breach in the wall, the fist attack was launched upon Constantinople on a May morning at 1:00 a.m. The shout of men could be heard miles away. This fist attack was led by the Bashi-bazouks. They tried to attack the weakest point in the walls. They knew they were outnumbered and out skilled, but they still fought with passion. After fighting for two hours, they were called to retreat.

The second attack was brought on by the Anatolian Turks from Ishak’s army. This army could easily be recognized by their specialized uniforms. This army was also more organized than the first. They used their cannons to blast through the walls of the city. By using trumpets and other noises they were able to break the concentration of their opponents. They were the first army to enter the city. The Christians were ready for them as they entered. They were able to massacre much of the army from this attack. This attack was called off at dawn.

Before the army was able to gain strength and order, another attack feel upon them. Mehmet’s favorite set of troops called the Janissaries started to attack. They launched arrows, missiles, bullets, stones and javelins at the enemy. They maintained perfect unity in this attack, unlike the other attempts. This battle, at the stockade, was a long tiring battle for the troops. The soldiers fought in hand-to-hand combat. Someone had to give. It was the Christians. The Turks remembered a port called the Kerkoporta. They noticed it had accidentally been left open by the Christians. The Christian army frequently used that gate to try to penetrate the flank of the Turkish army. They stormed the gate, but the Christians were able to stop them before completely entering the city.”

The Ottomans had achieved success and with permission from their sultan plundered the richest city they had ever seen however, during the siege before all had been lost there was resistance. The Byzantine defenders did not just give up without the biggest fight of their lives. They tried to save themselves, their city, and its people in every way they could. The men of Constantinople managed to thwart several attempts made by the Ottomans. In his recent article, historian Mark Cartwright describes the defiance and numerous ways the Byzantines fought and lashed out at their attackers.

“The onslaught went on for six weeks but there was some effective resistance. The Ottoman attack on the boom which blocked the city’s harbour was repelled, as were several direct assaults on the Land Walls. On 20 April, miraculously, three Genoese ships sent by the Pope and a ship carrying vital grain sent by Alphonso of Aragon managed to break through the Ottoman naval blockade and reach the defenders. Mehmed, infuriated, then got around the harbour boom by building a railed road via which 70 of his ships, loaded onto carts pulled by oxen, could be launched into the waters of the Golden Horn. The Ottomans then built a pontoon and fixed cannons to it so that they could now attack any part of the city from the sea side, not just the land. The defenders now struggled to station men where they were needed, especially along the structurally weaker sea walls.”

When Mehmed II won and fell, it was the darkest and bleakest moment for the Byzantine people. Thousands were outright killed and many thousands more were shipped off as slaves while the enemy destroyed, pillaged, and raped the occupants of the city. Constantinople would become known as Istanbul.

BOOK PICK OF THE DAY

An engrossing chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, from the bestselling author of Thermopylae.
At the dawn of the thirteenth century, Constantinople stood as the bastion of Christianity in Eastern Europe. The capital city of the Byzantine Empire, it was a center of art, culture, and commerce that had commanded trading routes between Asia, Russia, and Europe for hundreds of years. But in 1204, the city suffered a devastating attack that would spell the end of the Holy Roman Empire.

The army of the Fourth Crusade had set out to reclaim Jerusalem, but under the sway of their Venetian patrons, the crusaders diverted from their path in order to lay siege to Constantinople. With longstanding tensions between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, the crusaders set arms against their Christian neighbors, destroying a vital alliance between Eastern and Western Rome.

In The Great Betrayal, historian Ernle Bradford brings to life this powerful tale of envy and greed, demonstrating the far-reaching consequences this siege would have across Europe for centuries to come.


Opening moves: the campaigns of 672 and 673 [ edit | edit source ]

The campaign of 669 clearly demonstrated to the Arabs the possibility of a direct strike at Constantinople, as well as the necessity of having a supply base in the region. This was found in the peninsula of Cyzicus on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara, where a raiding fleet under Fadhala ibn 'Ubayd wintered in 670 or 671. Η] Mu'awiya now began preparing his final assault on the Byzantine capital. In contrast to Yazid's expedition, Mu'awiya intended to take a coastal route to Constantinople. ⎖] The undertaking was not haphazard, but followed a careful, phased approach: first the Muslims had to secure strongpoints and bases along the coast, and then, with Cyzicus as a base, Constantinople would be blockaded by land and sea and cut off from its agrarian hinterland, on which it depended for its food supply. ⎗]

Gold nomisma of Constantine IV

Accordingly, in 672 three great Muslim fleets were dispatched to secure the sea lanes and establish bases between Syria and the Aegean. Muhammad ibn Abdallah's fleet wintered at Smyrna, a fleet under a certain Qays (perhaps Abdallah ibn Qays) wintered in Lycia and Cilicia, and a third fleet, under Khalid, joined them later. According to the report of Theophanes, the Emperor Constantine IV (r. 661–685), upon learning of the Arab fleets' approach, began equipping his own fleet for war. Constantine's armament included siphon-bearing ships intended for the deployment of a newly developed incendiary substance, Greek fire. ⎘] In 673, another Arab fleet, under Gunada ibn Abu Umayya, captured Tarsus in Cilicia, as well as Rhodes. The latter, located midway between Syria and Constantinople, was converted into a forward supply base and centre for Muslim naval raids. Its garrison of 12,000 men was regularly rotated back to Syria, a small fleet was attached to it for defence and raiding, and the Arabs even sowed wheat and brought along animals to graze on the island. The Byzantines attempted to obstruct the Arab plans with a naval attack on Egypt, but it was unsuccessful. ⎙] Throughout this period, overland raids into Asia Minor continued, and the Arab troops wintered on Byzantine soil. ⎚]


1 &ndash The Kutrigurs (559)

Emperor Justinian is known for his attempted expansion of the Empire. He wanted to restore the Roman world to greatness and re-establish its power. While the legendary general Belisarius was able to retake Rome on two occasions, the Byzantines could not keep hold of it for long. Ultimately, Justinian overstretched the Empire which was surrounded by enemies. The Bulgars north of the Danube, also known as the Huns, were a major threat. They had migrated west from Central Asia and had reached the Volga River in the fourth century AD.

Belisarius. Wikimedia

The Bulgars were split into two groups the Kutrigurs, who were north of the Black Sea, and the Utigurs, who were further east. These groups frequently raided Byzantine territory until finally they threatened the city of Constantinople itself. In 559, a large number of Kutrigurs reached the Balkan Peninsula, and one of the three spearheads got as far as Constantinople. At that moment, the city did not have an adequate defense, and the desperate Justinian summoned Belisarius out of his enforced ‘retirement.&rsquo

The Khagan, or leader, of the Kutrigurs, was a warrior named Zabergan and he advanced on Constantinople with a force of 7,000 men. Before Belisarius was summoned, the Theodosian Walls were manned by young recruits, scholares, and senators. The great general arrived with a small force primarily made up of around 300 of his veterans. Belisarius set up camp in a small village a few kilometers from the city, and his elite troops were joined by a flock of peasants.

Zabergan arrived and rode against the Byzantines with 2,000 horsemen. Belisarius countered by concealing 200 cavalry in a valley when the Kutrigurs rode by, the hidden men shot the enemy with arrows. Belisarius charged at the Kutrigurs and tricked the enemy into thinking that the Byzantines had a much larger force. The marauding Bulgars fled the scene, and Constantinople was safe from immediate danger. Belisarius was the hero once again, but the city would face multiple sieges over the next 894 years.


Contents

In 602, Phocas overthrew Maurice (r. 582–602), the incumbent Byzantine emperor, and established a reign of terror and incompetence, leading the Empire into anarchy. Ώ] Laws were passed condemning Jews whilst religious and administrative mishandling left the Empire in a sorry state when the Sassanid king Khosrau II (r. 590–628) attacked, using the coup as a pretext for war. Initially, the war went well for the Persians, until only Anatolia remained in Roman hands. Later, Phocas was overthrown by the son of the then Exarch of Carthage, Heraclius. Ώ] A general of astounding energy yet limited experience, Heraclius immediately began undoing much of Phocas's damaging work that he had procured whilst Emperor. Ώ] Yet, despite his offensives into Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) Heraclius was unable to stop his Persian enemies from laying siege to his capital where from Chalcedon they were able to launch their attack. From 14–15 May 626, riots in Constantinople against John Seismos occurred because he wanted to cancel the bread rations of the scholae or imperial guards and raise the cost of bread from 3 to 8 follis. He did this to conserve government resources, but he was removed. However, there were further disturbances in the city. ΐ]


The Fall of Constantinople

Manuel Doukas Chrysaphes&rsquo (an artist in the 15 th century of the Byzantine empire) Lamentation for the Fall of Constantinople.

The map of the siege of Constantinople. The Fall of Constantinople was a major turning point, affecting trade, influencing the Renaissance, and explanding the Ottoman Empire.

Many historians point to 1204 as the practical end of the Byzantine Empire, as it disintegrated into feudal fiefdom. However, the Fall of Constantinople is a turning point for the city and the empire. The infamous date of the Fall of Constantinople is May 29, 1453 after the siege that began on April 6. This siege was led by the twenty-one-year-old Mehmet II from the Ottoman Empire. The siege was successful because the Ottomans had cannons and gunpowder, making the technology of the Walls obsolete. After the siege, the Byzantine Empire fell away to the Ottoman Empire. It was a blow to Christendom and a turning point for Western history as it is seen as the end to the Middle Ages and the start of the Renaissance. Scholars fled the city and brought their knowledge to the West [1]. Trade also changed as it severed some of the European trade links with Asia were severed. The city was renamed Islambol (where Islam abounds) [2].

The Fall (or Sack) of Constantinople was not only a turning point for the city, but it was also a turning point of the Theodosian Walls as a &ldquolieu de memoire.&rdquo No longer is the wall associated with usefulness in defense as it failed the city. The fall slowly turns to ruins in modern day. The rise and fall of Constantinople coincides with the rise and fall of the Theodosian Walls.

[1] Herrin, Judith. &ldquoThe Fall of Constantinople.&rdquo HistoryToday. Volume 53. Issue 6. July 2003.

[2] Mansel, Philip. &ldquoConstantinople: city of the world&rsquos desire.&rdquo New York, 1996.

Humanities 54: The Urban Imagination / Julie Buckler, Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literatures, Harvard University


The Siege [ edit | edit source ]

After wintering in Lampsacus, in January 1260 Palaiologos crossed the Hellespont with his army and headed towards Constantinople. ⎗] The accounts of the Byzantine chroniclers on the subsequent events however differ greatly with each other. According to the account of George Akropolites, the emperor relied on the promises of treason of a certain Latin noble "Asel" (variously identified either with Ansel de Toucy or Ansel de Cahieu), who owned a house adjacent to the city walls and had promised to open up a gate to the Nicaean troops. Consequently, the expedition was not large enough for a serious assault on the city. Michael led his men to encamp at Galata, ostensibly preparing to attack the fortress of Galata on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, while he awaited Asel's treason. Asel however did not act, and claimed that his keys had been taken by the city's ruler. Akropolites then says that Michael obtained a one-year truce and abandoned the siege. ⎘] ⎙] The other chroniclers (George Pachymeres, Nikephoros Gregoras, and others) present the expedition in a very different light, as a large-scale undertaking, with a determined and prolonged effort against the city itself. It involved a preliminary campaign to isolate the city by capturing the outlying forts and settlements controlling the approaches, as far as Selymbria (some 60 km from the city), as well as a direct assault on Galata. This was a large-scale affair, supervised personally by Michael from a conspicuous elevated place, with siege engines and attempts at undermining the wall. Galata however held due to the determined resistance of its inhabitants and the reinforcements shipped over from the city in rowboats. In the face of this, and worried by news of imminent relief for the besieged, Michael lifted the siege. ⎚] ⎛]

The difference in the two accounts is attributed by modern scholars to Akropolites' known tendency to minimize the failures of Michael VIII. The two narratives, which both feature an attempt against Galata, are clearly referring to the same event, and the plot of Asel may indeed reflect a genuine episode of the siege which was given undue prominence by Akropolites. ⎚] ⎜]


History Painting: ‘The Crusader army attacks Constantinople’ by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, circa 1587.

If you are a curious visitor to Italy, and make your way to Venice, in the Great Hall of the Palazzo Ducale, is a painting that all Byzantine and Crusader enthusiasts will find quite interesting. It is a painting that is shared on the internet almost every time an enthusiast or scholar is making a reference to the Fourth Crusade. Interestingly, it is known by many names such as The Siege of Constantinople, but no matter what we call this masterpiece, Italian painter Jacopo Palma il Giovane, has captured a fascinating glimpse at one of history’s most important events.

For those that want to read more on the subject there is a wealth of material elsewhere about the Fourth Crusade. For the purposes of this article, I’ve decided to give the reader here below a brief outline.

The siege and sack of Constantinople was the final shameful act of the Fourth Crusade that began on the 8th of April 1204. It was a culmination of events that first led the crusader armies to the walls of the eternal city in 1203, in which the Latins had entered in an agreement to restore the rightful heir of the Byzantine Empire, Isaac II. In short, Isaac II was restored as Emperor, with his Latin puppet son Alexios IV to rule as co-Emperor, a condition of his reinstatement as Emperor. Moreover, as part of the deal to compensate the Crusaders, the Byzantines would have to cough up a huge sum of money and swear an allegiance to the Pope in Rome.

Almost immediate, Isaac and Alexios rule would prove unpopular, especially when Constantinople’s citizens heard what was being asked of them. When the hated Alexios IV was deposed and subsequently murdered by a popular uprising early in 1204, the Crusaders were absolutely furious and immediately asked the new usurper Alexios V to honour the agreements and debts owed to them by Alexios IV. The new Emperor, of course, refused.

The armies of the Fourth Crusade thereafter began a new offensive against the city on the 8th April 1024. It was time it seemed to put an end to the old Roman Empire. At first the siege almost came to a standstill, as the Crusaders failed to make headway with their attacks, but on the 12 th April with the assistance of favourable winds, Venetian ships were finally able to get close enough to Constantinople’s sea walls.

If I can divert the reader’s attention here for a moment away from the siege’s story, you can see (here above) in Jacopo Palma il Giovane epic painting that he has chosen roughly to paint the moment in time where the Venetian Fleet has run its galleys onto the narrow strip of beach. It is a scene that also depicts the utter chaos that ensued as the Crusaders seemingly overwhelmed the Byzantines as they scaled Constantinole’s magnificent sea walls.

And so, after a brief successful attack, the Crusaders eventually opened one of the gates in the wall and entered into the city. The fighting continued in the city, but by the next morning on the 13th, the will of the defenders to fight came to an end. What followed has been described by witnesses and historians ever since, as the greatest shame inflicted on Christians by other fellow Christians, in faithlessness and deception, in cruelty and sheer utter greed.

For three days straight days, the inhabitants of Constantinople were open to rape and murder, as the Crusaders systematically pillaged the city. The Crusaders targeted everything in their wake, sacking churches and mansions of the rich. Battle axes, swords and tools hacked and wrenched out gold and precious stones from walls and objects of beauty. Religious treasure, which included the relics of saints, was particularly sort after and shipped to Italy and France. So much more was melted down to mint coins or damaged by senseless destruction or lost in the chaos. It was the Venetians who gained some of the greatest ‘booty’. They carefully selected beautiful enamels and precious oriental marble-works. Most famously, the Venetians brought back to their lagoon, the four bronze horse statues, that stood in Constantinople’s hippodrome for centuries, which would now adorn the central doorway of the Basilica of San Marco.

Interestingly, and as Jacopo Palma il Giovane might lead us to believe in this Venetian version of the siege, the Crusaders are depicted with heroic determination. On personal note, I’m not so sure that it was heroic determination but calculated self-interest and greed. That said, the Fourth Crusade did more than just strip the great city of Constantinople of its wealth. It had decidedly mortally wounded the Byzantine Empire that had stood for almost a thousand years. The Crusaders would share-out Byzantium’s lands and Constantinople would become the heart of a new Latin Empire of the East, until the Byzantine’s eventually recaptured its precious city in 1261. But it was never the same again.


Watch the video: Πολιορκία της Κωνσταντινούπολης 717-718 - Αραβο-βυζαντινοί πόλεμοι ΝΤΟΚΙΜΑΝΤΕΡ (August 2022).