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The Fall of Constantinople 1453 by Steven…

The Fall of Constantinople 1453 (1965)

by Steven Runciman

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This is an often harrowing account of the bitter end of the Byzantine empire, that eastward extension of the Roman Imperium. Many at the time, may have thought good riddance. Publicly though this collapse was regarded with outrage but not action. Revisionists may wrong their hands and point to the long war between Islam and the West. There is evidence of a longer war between Mediterranean neighbors, religion just makes it sexier. Constantinople was in a steady decline since Christian crusaders sacked it 250 years before. The Ottomans conversely were progressing, utilizing technology and a mighty military to make enroads across the map. Runciman is an excellent auditor, one who never bends to sentiment or stereotype. Mehmed II was a renaissance badass who spoke a half dozen languages, loved science and poetry but was still sufficiently despotic to impale all his enemies when so peeved. The gallant West--here I jest--argued amongst themselves to zero hour and after a six week siege stormed the city and four thousand fell of the remaining 50k. Many churches were pillaged and then destroyed, others were converted to mosques. So it goes. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
It all started with a question from a dear friend: He wanted to know about a musical piece that I recommended to him many years ago. The piece was titled "Everytime the City Falls", and had been recorded by Audiofact, a group of jazz musicians from Turkey and USA [1]. It was an interesting and dynamic interpretation of a very old composition: A piece titled "Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae" by a Franco-Flemish composer, Guillaume Du Fay, written about 560 years ago, lamenting the fall of Constantinople [2].

Having spent the first 32 years of my life in the modern city of Istanbul, and now living barely a few kilometers away from where composer Guillaume Du Fay was born (who is also mentioned in the book), I decided to read "The Fall of Constantinople, 1453". I don't regret the decision.

If you have even a modicum of interest in history, be prepared for a lot of reading pleasure. The author, even though he did his homework, and went through many original sources, is not here to give you a dry account of chronological facts. Rather, the whole story, together with its grand context, is presented in a living, breathing narrative. In a few hundred pages that simply flow, you will not only learn about the state of the Byzantine Empire in its last few decades, as well as main events happening on the other side of the wall, that is, Turkish people getting closer and closer every day, but you will also appreciate how the twists and turns of events shaped the history of Constantinople and Istanbul as we know it.

If you, like me, read the book around the anniversary of the event, you'll also realize how politicized the whole thing is, after more than 560 years. A cursory glance at mainstream media and social media will reveal that some people worship the event as the Ottoman genius conquering the most prized city and civilization, and some others still feeling the pity because some 'barbarians' broke the walls and put a sudden end to the pinnacle of civilization. The truth is, as any avid student of history knows, never that black and white. There's no glory in absolute terms, no 100% villains and heroes. Instead there's always the tragedy and the drama. There's always the bitter rivalries and tragic competition even among the 'friends'. And as this exquisite book shows clearly, there's always the problem of money and human short-sightedness.

Some parts of the book might disturb readers who regard Mehmed the Conqueror (Memhmed II) not only as the young and fierce military genius, but also the supreme ruler carrying the sword of Islam, because the book does not refrain from talking about his appreciation of wine, as well as his lust for young and handsome boys.

Apart from interesting personal details, the book portrays how fragmented the city was, as well as how fragmented the European powers, who were supposed to help the Byzantine Empire, were. This, and of course, the religious power struggle between Catholics and Orthodox churches. What makes it more interesting is the rivalry between the Venetian and Genoese people living in Constantinople, and how their governments made cold-blooded calculations to keep their commerce intact to the extent possible. The rulers change, the religious authorities change, the names come and go, but of course, keeping the flow of money is the most important thing to focus on, the rest are diplomatic and political details to be negotiated whoever declares himself to be the supreme ruler.

One thing for sure, having read the book, it is impossible for me to walk the old streets of Istanbul the same way I did before. Every step I take, I'll remember the ancient stories, and how they shaped the city I grew up. As the modern city is crumbling under the weight of its current population of 15 million people, I will keep on wondering whether it will fall again, and if its rulers will ever be as wise and well-educated as former ones such as Byzantine emperors and Mehmed the Conqueror.

1- http://www.allmusic.com/song/everytime-the-city-falls-mt0018681703
2- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamentatio_sanctae_matris_ecclesiae_Constantinopol... ( )
1 vote EmreSevinc | Jun 18, 2016 |
Great book. ( )
  timspalding | Feb 13, 2015 |
'No scholar in the field is better suited or equipped than Sir Steven to retell the story'
David Talbot, Times Literary Supplement

When the Ottomans captured Constantinople, they established an empire that would last for five centuries. For the Greeks, it brought the end of the Byzantine civilisation. Steven Runciman’s account of the fall remains a classic, informing historians and enthralling a wide range of readers with its gripping narrative.

Runciman begins with the events leading up to the siege of the ‘Queen City’ – the alliances made and broken, the triumphs and defeats, the rise of the Sultanate and the decisive cry of the young Sultan Mehmet II: ‘Give me Constantinople’. We see his army advance by land and sea, armed with ‘new-fangled machines’, and learn of the crucial role played by the enterprising Hungarian cannon-maker, Urban. Runciman conveys the simultaneous courage and despair of the citizens as they eyed the approaching fleet, their pleas for help from Italy’s reluctant politicians and the fearless responses of individuals such as Giovanni Giustiniani Longo, who arrived from Genoa with several hundred soldiers, eager to join the defence. The chapter on the siege itself is so vivid that it reads as a thrilling minute-by-minute account. Throughout, Runciman effortlessly combines the historian’s sweeping view with the great writer’s insight into the experiences of people on both sides, from the cardinal who escaped the falling city by exchanging clothes with a beggar, to the unhappy fate of the brave Turkish admiral, Baltoghlu. Judith Herrin, Emeritus Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King’s College London, praises this quality in her introduction, describing as Runciman’s hallmark ‘his deep affection for the individual players in historical events’.

This is the first illustrated edition of The Fall of Constantinople 1453, which was originally published in 1965. It features maps as endpapers and 20 full-colour images taken from manuscripts, illuminations, paintings and artefacts. Josh Berer, a calligrapher and designer, has created an elegant binding based on a Hadith.
1 vote Balnaves | Sep 11, 2013 |
This is a terrific read, well written and absorbing. runciman details the near defeat of the Turks, but adds that it was just a matter of time before the city fell.
His observations of the Venetians, the Genoese, the Greeks and others are balanced and his notes on sources very good. ( )
  annbury | Jul 25, 2013 |
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Počev od otomanskog pohoda na Evropu krajem XIV veka, Ransiman nam, istorijski precizno i istovremeno dirljivo, pripoveda o očajničkim pokušajima poslednjih vizantijskih careva da dobiju pomoć od sve ravnodušnijeg Zapada, o unutrašnjim trvenjima hrišćanskih kraljevina na Balkanu...
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Preface: In the days when historians were simple folk the Fall of Constantinople, 1453, was held to mark the close of the Middle Ages.
On Christmas Day in the year 1400 King Henry IV of England gave a banquet in his palace of Eltham.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0521398320, Paperback)

This classic account shows how the fall of Constantinople in May 1453, after a siege of several weeks, came as a bitter shock to Western Christendom. The city's plight had been neglected, and negligible help was sent in this crisis. To the Turks, victory not only brought a new imperial capital, but guaranteed that their empire would last. To the Greeks, the conquest meant the end of the civilisation of Byzantium, and led to the exodus of scholars stimulating the tremendous expansion of Greek studies in the European Renaissance.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:14 -0400)

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