6 January 1449, Constantine Dragaš Palaiologos was crowned as Constantine XI, the last emperor of the Roman Empire.
“To surrender the city to you is beyond my authority or anyone else's who lives in it, for all of us, after taking the mutual decision, shall die out of free will without sparing our lives.“ (Constantine XI)
|An icon showing Constantine XI, the emperor being an unofficial saint for some.|
Dead like Janko at Kosovo an old Serbian proverb says. When Janko, the Hungarian chivalric icon John Hunyadi, had lost his last battle against the Ottoman Turks on the Blackbird's Field, the Kosovo Polje , against Sultan Murat II and his son Mehmet in 1448, the last hope for a relief of Constantinople from the west was gone for good. The Byzantine Empire, once upon a time a superpower, had long since degenerated into a city state and when its last emperor was crowned a year later, his authority to exert power did hardly stretch beyond the metropolis’ decaying Theodosian Wall. Not that Constantine Palaiologos, who preferred to be called Dragases after his Serbian mother Helena Dragaš, could not demonstrate at least some success against the Ottomans and the Frankish princes in Greece when he was despot of the Morea, the Medieval Peloponnese, but it was too late and to little and the western powers with the mighty Italian maritime republics leading the way were far from being able to agree on a concept about how to save doomed Constantinople with too many conflicting own interests and troubles of their own. And then, in April 1453, the young ruler of the Ottomans set forth to become Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the Conqueror of Constantinople.
|Fausto Zonaro showing Fatih Sultan Mehmet setting forth to conquer Constantinople (1903)|
A few hundred men-at-arms had arrived to defend the city, though, most came from Genoa, led by Giovanni Giustiniani Longo, a few from Venice, Sicily and the Papal States. For two months, Emperor Constantine led a heroic defence with less than 10,000 men against Mehmet’s 80,000 troops and their cutting-edge equipment but the end was inevitable. Constantinople’s land walls were taken by storm on 29 May 1453 and when Constantine, who was still defending the walls, heard that all was lost, he stripped himself of all Imperial insignia, asked the men around him who still had the spirit to fight and die with him like the Romans of old and threw himself into the hand-to-hand combat in the Blachernae quarter, where he died fighting at the gates. Allegedly, his corpse was recognised by the purple boots the emperor traditionally wore and given a burial by Mehmet, but there is the legend that the “Marble Emperor” was rescued by an angel, placed in a cave and turned into stone, to come forth to fight and save the empire another day.
| Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant: “The Entry of Mahomet II into Constantinople“ |
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