Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The End of Byzantium

The End of Byzantium

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The End of Byzantium
    Book Description:

    By 1400, the once-mighty Byzantine Empire stood on the verge of destruction. Most of its territories had been lost to the Ottoman Turks, and Constantinople was under close blockade. Against all odds, Byzantium lingered on for another fifty years until 1453, when the Ottomans dramatically toppled the capital's walls. During this bleak and uncertain time, ordinary Byzantines faced difficult decisions to protect their livelihoods and families against the death throes of their homeland. In this evocative and moving book, Jonathan Harris explores individual stories of diplomatic maneuverings, covert defiance, and sheer luck against a backdrop of major historical currents and offers a new perspective on the real reasons behind the fall of this extraordinarily fascinating empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16966-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chronological Table
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  7. Genealogical Table of the Palaiologos Family (1354–1502)
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  8. Prologue
    (pp. xvii-xxii)

    Late in the night of 28 May 1453, Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos met with his commanders. For six weeks they had defended the walls of Constantinople, capital and one of the last outposts of the once-mighty empire of Byzantium, against the forces of the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II. Against all the odds, they had held the line, heavily outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned by the sultan’s huge cannon. Now, from their positions on the walls, they could see from the piles of scaling ladders and grappling hooks and from the frenzied activity in the besiegers’ camp that Turkish preparations for the...

  9. 1 Autumn in Constantinople
    (pp. 1-21)

    On the feast of St John Chrysostom, which was celebrated every year on 13 November, it was the custom of the Byzantine emperor to ride out with his courtiers from his palace of Blachernae which lay in the north-western corner of his capital city of Constantinople. They would progress down the long main street known as the Mese and across the city’s main square, the Augousteion, where they would dismount and enter the looming bulk of the cathedral of Hagia Sophia. There under the building’s soaring dome and among the flickering candles and oil lamps that provided the only light...

  10. 2 The Shadow Empire
    (pp. 22-45)

    The dramatic downfall of Bayezid in the summer of 1402 had certainly saved Constantinople from the immediate threat of starvation and surrender, but that did not mean the city was safe. Although Bayezid had been captured by Timur, his numerous sons had escaped from the catastrophe at Ankara. One of them, Suleyman, crossed the Dardanelles to Gallipoli a few weeks later on a Genoese ship and once he was in Adrianople he succeeded in having himself recognised as the rightful ruler of his father’s dominions in the Balkans. Timur, who had no fleet at his disposal, could not follow him...

  11. 3 Playing Politics
    (pp. 46-71)

    Even as the Turks were hammering at the gates of Constantinople and even as the empire stood on the brink of destruction, the Byzantines still managed to find time to fight internal civil wars and to involve themselves in intricate and interminable theological squabbles. Their apparently skewed understanding of priorities has perplexed and exasperated subsequent generations and alienated their sympathy. It has led to the last Byzantines being condemned as having not ‘the slightest conception of patriotism or of personal honour or of the sacredness of family ties’.¹ Such judgements fail to understand the nature of the situation. Whereas in...

  12. 4 To the Brink
    (pp. 72-102)

    Although the downfall of Bayezid had removed the immediate danger to Constantinople, Manuel II and his advisers were not so naïve as to think that they were safe. Their main fear at the beginning of 1403 was that they had merely exchanged one powerful enemy for another. There was a well-grounded apprehension that Timur would not stop in Asia Minor but would find a way to cross to Europe and strike at Bayezid’s son Suleyman in Adrianople. Once in Europe, there would be nothing to prevent Timur from swinging his forces round and marching on Constantinople. The fate of Smyrna...

  13. 5 Twisting the Lion’s Tail
    (pp. 103-126)

    John VIII Palaiologos (r.1425–1448) is the only Byzantine emperor of whom a realistic portrait, drawn from the life, survives. It was made by the Italian artist Pisanello (c.1395–c.1455) and subsequently incorporated into a bronze portrait medal. It shows the emperor as he was at the age of forty-seven. His thin face is in profile, with a pointed beard and curled ringlets falling back over his collar, ‘a very handsome man’, according to an Italian who saw him in Florence, ‘with a beard of the Greek cut’. It is a sensitive face and a sad one, perhaps what one...

  14. 6 A Council and a Crusade
    (pp. 127-154)

    Like the disastrous war against Murad II of 1421–4, the fall of Thessalonica reignited the urgent debate on how to deal with the Ottomans and how to relate to the Catholic west. Those who believed that accommodation rather than resistance was the only way of defusing the Ottoman threat must have taken careful heed of what had happened at Thessalonica. It certainly showed just how ineffective Latin help was against the Ottomans. For all their naval power, at the end of the day the Venetians could not match the military might of the sultan. The Venetians could, moreover, be...

  15. 7 From Murad to Mehmed
    (pp. 155-177)

    Murad’s revenge never came. In the weeks following the disaster at Varna, it was widely rumoured that he was going to follow up his victory with an attack on Constantinople but the reports proved false. Instead he did something completely unexpected: he abdicated. No one knows for certain what prompted him to take this extraordinary decision. It could be that he was just tired. He was now forty years old and most of his adult life had been spent in relentless warfare. The mayhem and slaughter of the battlefield of Varna may have been the last straw. He is said...

  16. 8 Nemesis
    (pp. 178-206)

    The character and personality of the nineteen-year-old who arrived in Adrianople from Manisa in February 1451 will always be rather shadowy. Most surviving images of Mehmed II (1451–1481) show him in the last year of his life when he was a gouty and paranoid tyrant, and much of the detailed information that we have about him dates from his maturity and old age. There are only a few scattered clues as to what he was like before his accession. The Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul preserves a notebook that he used during his schooling in the 1440s. Its 180...

  17. 9 On the Quayside
    (pp. 207-227)

    It was later reckoned that about four thousand people, combatants and non-combatants, were killed by the victorious Turks on the morning of 29 May 1453, roughly half of them in the massacre on the walls following Giovanni Giustiniani’s withdrawal and the Ottoman breakthrough. The most high-profile victim was Emperor Constantine. To start with no one was sure exactly what had happened to him and rumours about his fate abounded. Some said that they had seen him lying dead among the piles of corpses, others that he had hanged himself in despair, and later in the day the reports appeared to...

  18. 10 East or West?
    (pp. 228-255)

    In the scattered territories and islands that still bore allegiance to the Byzantine emperor in 1453, the choice was soon made. The ships that had escaped from the Golden Horn on the morning of 29 May sailed south through the Dardanelles and put in at the Byzantine islands of Limnos and Imbros, where the news of the fall of Constantinople was greeted with shock, terror and panic. On Limnos two hundred inhabitants along with their wives and children, believing that the Ottoman fleet would shortly be sailing south to attack the island, had gone on board the Italian ships which...

  19. Epilogue
    (pp. 256-258)

    Early in the year 1492, the first Tudor king of England, Henry VII (r.1485–1509), had a visitor. It was clearly not someone whom he regarded as being of great importance. In a warrant to his treasurer and chancellor, Henry described the new arrival rather vaguely as ‘the Greek for whom our holy father the pope and divers cardinals have written unto us’ and directed that they ‘appoint some convenient sum of money to be given unto the same Greek by way of reward’. Only the following day did the identity of the visitor emerge. Another document named him as...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 259-278)
  21. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 279-287)
  22. Index
    (pp. 288-298)