Konstantinos Palaiologos - ( Image compiled by Dr. Blog )

The Byzantines took their name from Byzantium, an ancient city on the Bosphorus, the strategic waterway linking the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea. The Roman Emperor Constantine had renamed this city Constantinople in the fourth century and made it a sister capital of his empire. This eastern partition of the Roman Empire outlived its western counterpart by a thousand years, defending Europe against invasions from the east by Persians, Arabs, and Turks. The Byzantines persevered because Constantinople was well defended by walls and the city could be supplied by sea.

At their zenith in the sixth century, the Byzantines covered much of the territories of the original Roman Empire, lacking only the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal), Gaul (modern France), and Britain. The Byzantines also held Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, but by the middle of the seventh century they had lost them to the Arabs. From then on their empire consisted mainly of the Balkans and modern Turkey.

In the fourteenth century, the Turks invaded Europe, capturing Adrianople and bypassing Constantinople. They settled the Balkans in large numbers and defeated a large crusader army at Nicopolis in 1396. In May 1453, captured a weakly defended Constantinople with the aid of heavy cannon. Despite the heroic Emperor's death in the city castles, the fall of the city brought the Byzantine Empire to an end.

Strange signs and portents added to the tension among the besieged.

?n 24 May, when the moon was full, there was an eclipse and three hours of darkness. Some recalled the prophecy that Constantinople would be taken when the moon was ?n the wane. The end seemed to be nigh. Constantine commanded that the most venerable icon of the Mother of God, protectress of the city, should be brought ?ut and carried in procession round the streets. Suddenly the icon slipped off the frame ?n which it was being held aloft; and almost at once the streets were deluged with torrents of hail and rain. The procession was abandoned. The next day the city was shrouded in thick fog. At nightfall, when the fog lifted, the dome of the church of the H?ly Wisdom was seen to be lit by a mysterious glow that crept slowly up from its base to the great gilded cross at the top. The Turks saw it too from their camp beyond the walls. It could ?nly be an omen, of hope for the Turks and of despair for the Greeks.

?n Monday, 28 ?ay, the Greeks knew that their moment of truth was up?n them. There was a weird calm from the Turkish camp. The Sultan had ordered a day of rest before the final assault. Those in the city who could be spared from manning and patching up the battered walls took to the streets in prayer. Constantine ordered that icons and relics from churches and monasteries be carried round the walls while the church bells rang. The crowd of Greeks and Italians, Orthodox and Catholic, forgot their differences as they joined in hymns and prayers. Constantine led the procession ?n its solemn march.25 When it was over he assembled his ministers, officers and soldiers and addressed them. There are three accounts of what he said. The first and shortest of them is contained in a letter of Leonardo of Chios, the Latin Archbishop of Lesbos, addressed to Pope Nicholas V ?n 19 August 1453.

Leonardo had been present during the last weeks of Byzantine Constantinople and he reported to the pope some six weeks after the capture of the city, while his memory was still fresh. The two other and longer versions of Constantine’s speech are mainly elaborations and extensions of Leonardo’s text. One purports to be from the pen of George Sphrantzes, who must certainly have heard the speech though he makes n? mention ?f it in his memoirs. It is to be read ?nly in the extended version of those memoirs compiled in the sixteenth century by Makarios Melissenos.

The third version is given in the Greek Chronicle of the Turkish Sultans, also of the sixteenth century. The speech as related by Leonardo of Chios is thus the most reliable account, even though the rhetoric of it may be fanciful. It may therefore be worth giving it in full, since it was Constantine’s last public speech and can serve, as Gibbon observed, as “the funeral oration of the Roman Empire”.

?Gentlemen, illustrious captains ?f the army, and our most Christian comrades in arms: we n?w see the hour ?f battle approaching. ? have therefore elected t? assemble y?u here t? make it clear that y?u must stand together with firmer resolution than ever. Y?u have always fought with glory against the enemies of Christ. ??w the defence of your fatherland and of the city kn?wn the world over, which the infidel and evil Turks have been besieging for two and fifty days, is committed to your lofty spirits. Be n?t afraid because its walls have been worn down by the enemy’s battering. For your strength lies in the protection of God and y?u must show it with your arms quivering and your swords brandished against the enemy. ? know that this undisciplined mob will, as is their custom, rush up?n y?u with loud cries and ceaseless volleys of arrows. These will do y?u n? bodily harm, for ? see that y?u are well covered in armour. They will strike the walls, our breastplates and our shields. So do not imitate the Romans who, when the Carthaginians went into battle against them, allowed their cavalry t? be terrified by the fearsome sight and sound of elephants. ?n this battle y?u must stand firm and have n? fear, n? thought of flight, but be inspired to resist with ever more herculean strength. Animals may run away from animals. ?ut y?u are men, men of stout heart, and y?u will hold at bay these dumb brutes, thrusting your spears and swords into them, so that they will know that they are fighting not against their ?wn kind but against the masters of animals.

Y?u are aware that the impious and infidel enemy has disturbed the peace unjustly. He has violated the oath and treaty that he made with us; he has slaughtered our farmers at harvest time; he has erected a fortress ?n the Propontis as it were to devour the Christians; he has encircled Galata under a pretence of peace. ??w he threatens to capture the city of Constantine the Great, your fatherland, the place of ready refuge for all Christians, the guardian of all Greeks, and t? profane its holy shrines of God by turning them into stables for his horses. Oh my lords, my brothers, my sons, the everlasting honour of Christians is in your hands. Y?u men of Genoa, men of courage and famous for y?ur infinite victories, y?u who have always protected this city, your mother, in many a conflict with the Turks, show n?w your prowess and your aggressive spirit toward them with manly vigour. Y?u men of Venice, most valiant heroes, whose swords have many a time made Turkish blood t? fl?w and who in our time have sent so many ships, so many infidel souls t? the depths under the command of Loredano, the most excellent captain of our fleet, y?u who have adorned this city as if it were your ?wn with fine, outstanding men, lift high your spirits n?w for battle. Y?u, my comrades in arms, obey the commands of your leaders in the knowledge that this is the day of your glory a day ?n which, if y?u shed but a drop of blood, y?u will win for yourselves crowns of martyrdom and eternal fame.?

Constantine’s speech, in whatever form he delivered it, gave new heart t? those who heard it. When the shades of evening began to fall people moved as if by instinct towards the church of the H?ly Wisdom. The soldiers stayed at their posts ?n the walls. But others, Greeks and Latins alike, crowded into the great church to pray together for their deliverance. Common fear and common danger worked more of a wonder than all the councils of the church. Orthodox bishops, priests and monks who had loudly protested that they would never again set foot in their cathedral until it had been purged of the Roman pollution, n?w came to the altar to join their Catholic brethren in the holy liturgy. Among the celebrants was Cardinal Isidore, whom many of the faithful had branded as a traitor and a heretic. The Emperor Constantine came t? pray and t? ask forgiveness and remission of his sins from every bishop present before receiving communion at the altar.

The priest who gave him the sacrament cannot have known that he was administering the last rites to the last Christian Emperor of the Romans. He then went back t? his palace at Blachernai t? ask forgiveness from his household and bid them farewell before riding into the night t? make a final inspection of his soldiers at the wall.

The attack began without warning in the early hours of Tuesday, 29 ?ay. Wave up?n wave of the Sultan’s front-line troops charged up to the land walls. For nearly two hours they hammered at the weakest section, where the guns had already done their ruinous work. ?ut Giustiniani and his men, helped by Constantine, held them back and they began to withdraw. Their place was at once taken by some of the more professional and better armed and disciplined of the Sultan’s soldiers, supported by covering fire from the Turkish artillery. Still the defences held. At the same time the sea wall along the Golden Horn was under heavy attack, though there too the defenders held the initiative. The Sultan’s strategy was to give the Christians n? respite. Hardly had they recovered from the second assault ?n the land walls when the janissaries, his crack troops, advanced at the double, fresh and eager. Just before the break of day Giustiniani, who had been holding the line at the critical point for more than six hours, was badly wounded. The Emperor begged him t? stay at his post but he was too weak to carry ?n. His bodyguard carried him down to the harbour and ?n to a Genoese ship.

When they saw that their commander had left them, Giustiniani’s men lost heart. The defence wavered. The janissaries saw their chance. Constantine and his troops fought ?n with desperation but without much hope after their Genoese allies left them t? it. The janissaries gained control of the outer wall and then scaled the inner wall as well. Meanwhile a band of about fifty Turks broke in through a little gate in the wall called Kerkoporta. They were the first of the Sultan’s army to enter the city. They mounted the tower above the gate and raised the Ottoman flag. Their comrades understood the signal and echoed the shouts from within that the city had been taken. They stormed in through the breaches that the guns had made in the walls.

The defenders began to panic when they saw themselves surrounded with n? way of escape. The Emperor did all that he could to rally them. At the end the fighting had become hand to hand. It was fiercest at the gate called St Romanos where the inner wall had been breached; and it was probably there that Constantine Palaiologos was last seen alive. He had thrown away his regalia. He was killed fighting as a common soldier to stem the flood of infidels pouring into his Christian city.

At 29th of May 1453, the Capital City of the Cities, Constantinople, fell to the Ottoman Turks......

The most eloquent epitaph for him is that of the historian Kritoboulos :

?The Emperor Constantine… died fighting. He was a wise and moderate man in his private life and diligent to the highest degree in prudence and virtue, sagacious as the most disciplined of men. ?n political affairs and in matters of government he yielded to n? one of the Emperors before him in pre-eminence. Quick to perceive his duty, and quicker still to do it, he was eloquent in speech, clever in thought, and very accomplished in public speaking. He was exact in his judgements of the present, as someone said of Pericles, and usually correct in regard t? the future -a splendid worker, who chose t? do and to suffer everything for his fatherland and for his subjects.?

Emperors of Byzantium

Constantine I the Great ( 324-337 )
Constantine II ( 333-361 )
Joulianos the philosopher ( 361-363 )
Iovianos ( 363-364 )
Uaelintinianos ( 364-375 )
Ualis ( 364-378 )
Theodosios I the Great ( 379-395 )
Arkadios ( 395-408 )
Theodosios II ( 408-450 )
Marcianos ( 450-457 )
Leon I ( 0457-474 )
Leon II ( 474 )
Zinon ( 474-491 )
Anastassios I ( 491-518 )
Joustinos I ( 518-527 )
Joustinianos ( 527-565 )
Joustinos II ( 565-578 )
Tiverious II ( 578-582 )
Mauricios ( 582-602 )
Focas ( 602-610 )
Heraclios ( 610-641 )
Herakleonas & Constantine III ( 641 )
Constas II ( 641-668 )
Constantine IV ( 668-685 )
Joustinianos II ( 685-695 )
Leontios ( 695-698 )
Tiverious III ( 698-705 )
Joustinianos II (again) ( 705-711 )
Philippikos Vardanis ( 711-713 )
Anastassios II ( 713-719 )
Theodosios III ( 716-717 )
Leon III Isaurus ( 717-740 )
Constantine V ( 740-775 )
Leon IV ( 775-780 )
Constantine VI ( 780-797 )
Irini the Athenian ( 797-802 )
Nikiforos I ( 802-811 )
Stavrakios ( 811 )
Michail I ( 811-813 )
Leon V the Armenian ( 813-820 )
Michail II ( 820-829 )
Theophilos ( 829-842 )
Michail III ( 842-867 )
Vassilios I the Macedon ( 867-886 )
Leon VI ( 886-912 )
Alexandros ( 912-913 )
Constantine VII ( 913-959 )
Romanos I Lekapinos ( 919-944 )
Romanos II ( 959-963 )
Nikiforos II Focas ( 963-969 )
Ioannis Tsimiskis ( 969-976 )
Vassilios II Bulgaroctonus ( 976-1025 )
Constantine IIX ( 1025-1028 )
Romanos III ( 1028-1034 )
Michail IV Paphlagon ( 1034-1041 )
Michail V Kalaphatis ( 1041-1042 )
Constantine IX ( 1042-1054 )
Theodora ( 1054-1056 )
Michail VI ( 1056-1057 )
Issaakios I Komnenos ( 1057-1059 )
Constantine X Doukas ( 1059-1067 )
Romanos IV Diogenes ( 1067-1071 )
Michail VII Doukas ( 1071-1078 )
Nikiforos III Votaneates ( 1078-1081 )
Alexios I Komnenos ( 1081-1118 )
Ioannes II Komnenos ( 1118-1143 )
Manouil I Komnenos ( 1143-1180 )
Alexios II Komnenos ( 1180-1183 )
Andronikos I Komnenos ( 1183-1185 )
Issaakios II Aggelos ( 1185-1195 )
Alexios III Aggelos ( 1195-1203 )
Alexios IV ( 1203-1204 )
Alexios V Mourtzouflos ( 1204 1261 )
Michail IIX Palaeologus ( 1261-1282 )
Andronikos II Palaeologos ( 1282-1283 )
Michail IIX Palaeologos ( 1283-1328 )
Andronikos III Palaeologos ( 1328-1341 )
Ioannes V Palaeologos ( 1341-1391 )
Andronikos IV Palaeologos ( 1376-1379 )
Ioannes VII Palaeologos ( 1379-1402 )
Manouil II Palaeologos ( 1402-1425 )
Ioannes IIX Palaeologos ( 1425-1449 )
Constantine XI Palaeologos ( 1449-1453 )

Resources:

Donald M. Nicol, The Immortal Emperor, Cambridge Univ. Press, Canto edition, 1992 - ISBN 0 521 41456 3 ? Cambridge U.P.