Ottoman Empire: the Battle for Constantinople

About the battle for Constantinople between the Turks and the Ottoman Empire in 1453, the war led to new strategy and techniques including artillery.


The ancient city of Constantinople, last stronghold of the ancient Roman Empire in the East, drew many conquerors over its thousand-year history. In 1453 the city was attacked by the mighty Ottoman Empire. The vast lands in the east had already fallen to the Turks, who now set their sights on the city itself.

Mohammed II, a cruel ruler but an energetic, intelligent general, commanded a force of between 80,000 and 150,000 men. His army was divided into 3 types of soldiers: the bashibazouks, ill-disciplined, poorly armed Turks; the Anatolian levies, recruits who were somewhat better than the bashi-bazouks; and the janissaries, soldiers who were the cream of the Turkish Army. The latter were originally Christians, taken from their parents before the age of 12 and carefully trained in the art of war. They were the finest soldiers of their time.

Mohammed also introduced something new in his siege of Constantinople--artillery. The many attempts to take the city had often failed because of its 13 mi. of thick walls. Mohammed planned 1st to blast down huge sections of the wall in order to eliminate this barrier for his infantry

To meet the Turks, Emperor Constantine XI had only 8,000 men. But these men were under the command of the resourceful Venetian, Giovanni Giustiniani. Constantine also tried to enlist aid from other Christian states, but the schism between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox had proved too bitter to overcome. While the rest of Christendom argued and watched, the Turks attacked Constantinople.

At 1st the battle went badly for the Turks. Their fleet could not penetrate the harbor. Breaches torn by the great siege guns were immediately patched by the valiant Roman defenders. After many attacks had been repulsed by Giustiniani, Mohammed tried to move a giant wooden tower next to the wall. Giustiniani countered by rolling barrels of gunpowder under the structure to blow it up. Giustiniani's defense proved so successful that Mohammed tried to bribe him to defect to the Turkish side.

In a last desperate assault, Mohammed sent wave after wave of expendable soldiers to attack weakened sections of the wall. But the defenders threw back each assault with pikes, crossbows, and guns, and even Mohammed's janissaries took heavy losses. Then, suddenly, Giustiniani was wounded and forced to relinquish direct command. Encouraged, the janissaries gained the advantage, and Constantine was killed while bravely trying to rally his forces. Leaderless, the city fell.

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