Memorial Day? Try This One: May 29, 1453

Today, our Memorial Day for 2006, marks the 553rd anniversary of the fall of Constantinople. Paul Belien gives a moving account of the story at Brussels Journal. His recalling of the appeasement that led up to the seizure of the city is especially notable in our time: appeasement is a fool’s vain wish to avoid the predator:

Fall of Constantinople

In 1374, when the Ottomans were only a nascent power, Prince Manuel, governor of Salonica and a son of the Byzantine Emperor, had tried to rally the inhabitants of his city against the Turks. But the Salonicans did not want to bear the high costs of defending their city and promptly threw him out. Out of fear of the Turks his father, Emperor John V, refused Manuel shelter within the walls of Constantinople and so did all the other Byzantine cities. Consequently the prince was forced to seek refuge with… the Ottomans, whom he served until 1394, when he became Emperor himself.

When the Sultan demanded a Byzantine princess from the Emperor, the latter gave away his daughter Theodora to spend the rest of her life in the Sultan’s harem. He also gave the Turks a church in Constantinople to convert into a mosque. All the appeasement was in vain, however, because in 1453 the Turks demanded that the Byzantines surrender Constantinople. This time the Byzantines refused. In their final hour they saved their honour. “They fought for the city as they had never fought for the empire,” writes Jason Goodwin in his history of the Ottoman Empire. After a siege of two months the city fell. Emperor Constantine XI, Manuel’s son, died with his sword in his hand.

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That is Mr. Belien’s version. Oriana Fallaci, in The Force of Reason, has another more detailed version of Constantinople’s conversion into Istanbul. It is written in her inimitable style, which deserves not to be paraphrased, but quoted in full (pp 42-44):

…Crashing aside the Christians at Varna in 1444 they secured possession of Walachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, the territory now called Bulgaria and Romania, then in 1453 they put again under siege Constantinople which on May 29 fell into the hands of Mehmet II and by the way: do you know who was Mehmet II? A guy who, by virtue of the Islamic Fratricide Law which authorized a sultan to murder members of his immediate family, had ascended the throne by strangling his three year-old brother. Do you know the chronicle that about the fall of Constantinople the scribe Phrantzes has left us to refresh the memory of the oblivious or rather of the hypocrites?

Perhaps not. Especially in Europe, a Europe that weeps only for the Muslims, never for the Christians or the Jews or the Buddhists or the Hindus, it would not be Politically Correct to know the details of the fall of Constantinople. Its inhabitants who at daybreak, while Mehmet II is shelling Theodosius’ walls, take refuge in the cathedral of St. Sophia and here start to sing psalms. To invoke divine mercy. The patriarch who by candlelight celebrates his last Mass and in order to lessen the panic thunders: “Fear not, my brothers and sisters! Tomorrow you’ll be in the Kingdom of Heaven and your names will survive till the end of time!”. The children who cry in terror, their mothers who give them heart repeating: “Hush, baby, hush! We die for our faith in Jesus Christ! We die for our Emperor Constantine XI, for our homeland!”. The Ottoman troops who beating their drums step over the breaches in the fallen walls, overwhelm the Genovese and Venetian and Spanish defenders, hack them on to death with scimitars, then burst into the cathedral and behead even newborn babies. They amuse themselves by snuffing out the candles with their little severed heads… It lasted from the dawn to the afternoon that massacre. It abated only when the Grand Vizier mounted the pulpit of St. Sophia and said to the slaughterers: “Rest. Now this temple belongs to Allah” Meanwhile the city burns, the soldiery crucify and hang and impale, the Janissaries rape and butcher the nuns (four thousand in a few hours) or put the survivors in chains to sell them at the market of Ankara. And the servants prepare the Victory Feast. The feast during which (in defiance of the Prophet) Mehmet II got drunk on the wines of Cyprus and, having a soft spot for young boys, sent for the firstborn of the Greek Orthodox Grand Duke Notaras. A fourteen year-old adolescent known for his beauty. In front of everyone he raped him, and after the rape he sent for his family. His parents, his grandparents, his uncles, his aunts and cousins. In front of him he beheaded them. One by one. He also had all the altars destroyed, all the bells melted down, all the churches turned into mosques or bazaars. Oh, yes. That’s how Constantinople became Istanbul. But Doudou of the UN and the teachers in our schools don’t want to hear about it.

No, we don’t teach history that way anymore. But Oriana Fallaci is dying, and death gives her freedom to tell the truth, the whole bloody truth, and nothing but the horrendous truth.

This has been a report on the Religion of Peace. They will tell you we made it up.

For a poetic version, see the Baron’s post from January on Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”.

Hat tip: commenter Fluffy.

14 thoughts on “Memorial Day? Try This One: May 29, 1453

  1. The Ottomans used many cannon, including The Basilic, which was designed by Urban, a man from the Christian kingdom of Hungary. The Basilic could fire only once a day, but it took out great sections of the wall with a single shot. The Byzantines had earlier turned down Urban’s services.

    The facts not found in the web site were dredged from my memory of an issue of Strategy & Tactics published in the mid 70s.

  2. Maybe not taught as history because it’s not true? Just a thought.

    I have to admit the rape allegation is not one I’ve heard before. Shah Isma’il–the Safavid–did something like that though.

    Worth realizing too that Mehmet did something that even we weren’t able to do in Iraq–sent advance troops ahead to protect several areas of the city from getting sacked once his troops were in. Not saying it wasn’t bloody, it very much was.

    It’s also worth noting that by this point in time Constantinople was basically depopulated. Large parts of the city’s area (the area behind the walls) were completely overrun, and the population was a tiny fraction of what it once had been. It’s conquest, really, isn’t that big a deal. I mean, it IS a big deal in that it was the end of any Christian kingdom in Asia (though it had lost its asian territories previously) but the conquest of the city wasn’t really that huge a deal.

    Also, not all the churches were turned in to mosques. Some were. Not all.

    Actually Ms Fallaci’s account reminded me of the opening of Umberto Ecco’s Baudolino, in which the frankish crusaders are sacking Constantinope. Must be an Italian flare 🙂

    Incidentally, the “Islamic Fratricide Law” isn’t an “Islamic” law at all. It’s so disingenuous to write things like this. Yes, the Ottoman Turks were infamous for their fratricide. So were the Byzantines!

    Also as an interesting aside, the Italian defenders of the city seem to have been partially responsbile for the city’s fall. That is, their commanders looked down on the Greeks and basically demanded to be in charge of the cities defenses. When their positions were attacked they basically folded and retreated much faster than did the Greeks (who were after all defending their city) and were hampered by not knowing the terrain and layout of the city. Somewhat interesting.

  3. Our attempts to forget history or to at least clean up the untidy parts has brought us to the sorry state we are all in today.

    thank you for the posting,
    Dry Bones
    Israel’s Political Comic Strip Since 1973

  4. Adaneshju,

    When I studied for my Byzantium post, I read three accounts of the fall of Constantinople, and all mentioned the rape story, in one variation or another. According to all the sources, when the city fell, Mehmet opened up the city to three days of unrestricted burning, looting, pillage, rape, murder, and mayhem by his troops. After that he said, “That’s it, boys. Now we institute the rule of law — shari’ah law, that is.”

    Not all churches became mosques, but the biggest and wealthiest ones did, after being thoroughly despoiled. The idea was to demonstrate very effectively to the conquered that they had been crushed and humiliated, and that Islam was in charge now.

    You are right that the city was half-empty when it was overthrown. Many people had fled to Venice or other Christian havens in anticipation of the outcome.

    You are also right that the Franks had sacked Byzantium during one of the Crusades (I forget which). But the point is — ?

    If the point is that Christian conquerors have been just as bad as their Islamic counterparts, I beg to disagree. Robert Specncer, Serge Trifkovic, and Andrew Bostom provide copious and well-sourced evidence to the contrary.

    And I especially beg to disagree when you compare Islam and Christianity contemporaneously. No European Christian army was engaging in any barbarities comparable to those of the Turks in the late fifteenth century. No Christian army came close to the wholesale cruelty and destruction wrought by the Muslim jihad in India through the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

    And, most importantly, at this moment in history, in the early twenty-first century, no organized groups of Christians are slaughtering, raping, burning, and blowing things up in the name of their faith. Nor are Jews and Hindus, for that matter. The only ones who compete with Muslims in the wanton destruction department are the devout atheists like Stalin.

    I refuse to get on the “moral equivalence” bandwagon with regard to Islam and Christianity. It has never been true, and it is especially not true now.

    When all the critics can come up with are the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, you know that the argument is specious.

  5. Adaneshju:

    The population of the Mother of Cities at the time of the fall to the Turk was approximately 50,000 souls, the majority of whom were butchered. Too keep the city functioning after the slaughter, Mehmet had to import peasants from his other domains.

    Only by the standards of the First Among Cities was that “depopulation”. The only Muslim metropolis that had ever been able to be mentioned in the same category as The City was Baghdad before the Mongols. And frankly, having seen Baghdad after it has had about 950 years to recover from the Mongols, I’m not impressed.

  6. Baron,

    I find it’s interesting that you mention three continual days of pillage and mayhem. I would say that you are partly correct–3 days of looting were indeed authorized by Mehmet. But present in the accounts I have seen is that he brought a halt to the looting after one day. Not really that bad as far as conquests go.

    I really do not know about the rape story. As I mentioned, Shah Isma’il did something very similiar, but I had not heard it with regards to Mehmet. I will check on this.

    With regards to churches–no doubt as you say the biggest and many were taken over. Not all became mosques though, some became palaces and dwellings. In parts of the city in which people surrendered, churches were actually protected. The Patriachy was protected too–it’s actually quite interesting that the Orthodox Patriarchy (which it’s true had little choice) often acted as an ally with the Turks–seeing the Venetians and the Catholics as an enemy. If you want to talk contemporaries, you can find plenty of them in the preceding centuries of Crusade, and you can find even more in reconquista of Spain.

    With regards to the population of Constantinople. It’s been described as “a series of villages” by mid-15th century, and highly depopulated since the early 1200s (since the franks took over basically). Not a new thing.

    The point about the Crusades+Constantinople was merely to express my amusement at Fallaci and Eco’s writing styles being eerily similar in my mind.

    I would vehemently disagree with your assertion that “no european Christian army was engaging in any barbarities … etc” at this time. You may be correct that the Central Asian conquests were of a greater scale than any European conquests of the time–indeed, Christian armies were on the LOSING side of many conflicts at this time, making it difficult to be bloody conquerors…

    And of course when they WERE on the winning side–the “reconquista” of Spain, the expulsion of the Jews, and the later expulsion of Moriscoes was a pretty damn bloody affair. The violence in Europe at this time was turned inward–if you want to talk about barbarism I don’t think you can keep much worse than the inquisitions–church, Spanish, and otherwise.

    To the east, the other area in which Christians were meeting military successes, the Russian (since you mentioned Stalin..) expansion into Muslim areas was hardly bloodless. Want to take a guess as to what happened to Mosques and Muslims in the Tartar areas such as Kazan?

    Perhaps it’s not surprising that after many military defeats by the Muslims, that Christian Europe would turn violently inward? I wonder if there’s a correlary here to the Muslim world today.

    Also just as a fun aside, let’s not forget the forces of the one and only Vlad Drakul–Dracula. Yes, he was real, and yes, he committed many atrocities. Is it ok since he was sometimes fighting the Turks?

    you’re also right Baron, that no groups of organized Jews were slaughtering, raping, etc — but of course many were too busy fleeing Christian Europe to seek the relative tolerance of Islamicate lands at this time. Just as an interesting example of cultural flows in something I’ve studied–the very first printing press in the Ottoman Empire began operation circa 1495. The press had surged across Europe from spain to hungary in almost 20 years with massive penetration, but not so to the Ottoman Empire. Who brought the press to the Ottoman Empire? A family of Jews who had been forced to leave Grenada.

    For the record, I’m actually an admirer of Falwell. Not so much Pat Robertson who I think has gone bonkers.

    With regards to big cities, Just a Decurion has a decidedly Eurocentric worldview! Cairo was certaintly a giant city, though it had suffered greatly in plague. Let’s not forgot the great cities of China that absolutely dwarfed anything in Europe or even the Middle East though. I’m probably screwing up the spelling but Hangzhou (or maybe Xi’en–I’m weak on Chinese history) was supposed to be absolutely massive at this point. I’ve never seen Baghdad today, but I was less than impressed by Cairo FWIW–as a Lebanese fried told me “it’s a dirty third world megalopolis” … I agreed with his assessment.

  7. Adaneshju,

    I recognize and respect your desire to defend your faith. The facts you cite are true, so far as I know, so I have no quibble there. But anecdotal argument will not suffice.

    Statistically I do not believe that, on a contemporaneous (i.e. not comparing events from different centuries) basis, any other religion comes close to Islam when it comes to:

    1. Murder of helpless captives.

    2. Taking of slaves. This one, in particular, is significant. The Islamic slave trade, in Africa and elsewhere, dwarfed the Atlantic slave trade and continued long past the end of the Middle Passage. In fact, Muslims still take and trade slaves in Africa. No other religious group has a comparable record; the pagan Vikings were the closest competitor (unless, of course, you count Orthodox Atheists; the communists probably gave the Arabs a run for their money in the slavery category).

    3. Violent assaults on foreign peoples for purely religious reasons. Once again, this is not to say that Christians didn’t do the same things; I am arguing about the scale of these events. Demonstrate to me with statistics that Christians have a comparable record of invading, subduing, slaughtering, and enslaving for religious reasons. The Crusades are a weak argument in any case, because they were a response to the conquest of Christian polities in Asia Minor by Islam. Remember, the Christian cultures in Asia Minor had converted to Christianity peacefully, but gave it up to Islam under the threat of the sword.

    4. The oppression of women. Demonstrate to me — again, via statistics — that there was a period in history when women were treated better under Islam than they were under Christianity or Judaism.

    As for the relative treatment of Jews under Islam, Andrew Bostom, in The Legacy of Jihad, demonstrates that this is largely a myth, using on contemporaneous Jewish sources. I recommend his book; its endnotes are quite thorough.

    Finally, my main point is always about conditions right now, in 2006, in our degraded post-modern world. Once again, the statistics are overwhelming. Aside from the atheist totalitarianisms, no religion comes close to Islam in the perpetration of violence — against both infidels and other Muslims — in the name of religious faith.

    I challenge you to demonstrate, with statistics, that I am incorrect.

  8. Baron,

    First off, I just thought I would mention that I’m not Muslim. No desire to convert either!

    1. Murder of helpless captives.

    I really don’t know how to define this? ie, what do you mean by “helpless captives.” Does that include Jews in the Holocaust? Does it include slaughters of Indian tribes in American history? Are you primarily talking about captives as in when an army conquers a place, and in doing so, kills “civilians”? Not sure how I would debate this point (if I would).

    2. Taking of slaves

    This is an interesting one. I really am not sure if I would agree that “the Islamic slave trade … dwarfed the Atlantic slave trade.” I will readily admit to not having numbers on this, but the millions of slaves transported across the Atlantic over a solid 300 years? I don’t know.

    I would also add that in many cases the Venetians and other Christian Europeans were slave traders–origin of the word slav for instance.

    Slavery across much of the Islamic world was not entirely analagous to what we think of as southern plantation slavery either. Children were born free for instance. In the Ottoman Empire, there was even prestige for being a slave–it was one of the few ways one could be socially moble. Thus slaves became Grand Viziers and dominated the political scene of the Empire. African Islamic slavery was much more like Atlantic slavery however, especially in the east.

    Having said that–yeah, slavery was more widespread in many Islamic areas than it was in much of Europe.

    Would be interesting to see numbers–but I don’t have any.

    3. Violent assaults on foreign peoples for purely religious reasons

    Well again, this depends on how exactly you define the question. Europe conquered pretty much all of Africa, North and South America–and did so in the name of Christianity. Conversion, and ostensibly for enlightening the poor savages of the dark continent. Are the European conquests of the Aztecs or the Zulu for “purely religious reasons” … I don’t know…does it matter? Dead is dead.

    Another example I’ve mentioned before is the jews…they’ve been attacked throughout history in Europe culminating in the Holocaust. Is that religiously driven? Does that fit the definition? 6 million dead only 50 years ago seems quite high to me..

    If you’re talking today, I’ll absolutely agree with your statement. Historically, not so sure.

    I will also absolutely disagree with your assertion that conversions to Islam were forced. They took place over centuries, with Christian populations remaining in large numbers in the Middle East up nearly to the present day (when many went abroad). still there in large numbers in some places–the copts for example. If conversion had truly been done by the sword, there would be no christians, just like there were neither jews nor muslims in post-reconquista Spain. None–nada.

    4. The oppression of women

    You get absolutely no argument from me here. I will say it’s POSSIBLE that in the earliest years of Islam–maybe a century–that women were comparatively to the rest of the world well’s not something I would choose to argue though. Worst thing with Islam in my book. Why anyone would want to take 50% of their society out of productivity is beyond me..

    I tried looking up any journal articles / reviews on the Bostom book and came up blank, but I’ll try to get a hold of the book, but I can say that from my dealing with Ottoman history, my understanding of Jews in Islamicate civilizations is that for much of history, they were better off than in Christian ones. That’s all I’m saying (I believe I mentioned “relatively” or “comparatively” in my last post). This all of course changed in Europe around the Enlightenment (though it got worse again) and jews in the Islamic world today are at a definite nadir.

    I’m not claiming that it was a equal-rights PC paradise–it wasn’t.

    I think I rarely have disagreed or argued with discussions on the present day. Islam is without question the most nutso religion today. BUT, I’m not as sure as you are that it’s always been this way, and that it’s intrinsic in the way Islam must operate. For one thing, I don’t like to ignore the many millions of modern, secular Muslims. I believe you mentioned Pat Robertson in a previous comment–I wouldn’t want people to judge Christianity in the US solely on him (and thankfully they don’t). Now, the Islamist fundamentalists are a big (too put it mildly) more of a threat than Pat Robertson, but their existence doesn’t negate the existence of plenty of Muslim who DO integrate into western society, and thse who drink alcohol and skip fasting and believe in secular ideals, etc etc etc.

    I mentioned something about the way Christians used to be, or soemthing that happened in the past, and it gets no traction, whereas Muslim actions from 1000 years ago are apparently extremely relevant for right here, right now? Things can change. I don’t think I would have been very happy with Christianity in 15th century Europe, but that Christianity is dead and gone. Thank you reformation, thank you enlightenment, thank you secularism.

  9. Dympna,

    It appears that Fallaci played a bit loose with the facts for a good story. According to Runciman there was no rape:

    The kindness that Mehmet had shown to the Emperor’s surviving ministers was of short duration…. Five days after the fall of the city [3 June] he gave a banquet. In the course of it, when he was well flushed with wine, someone whispered to him that Notaras’s fourteen-year old son was a boy of exceptional beauty. The Sultan at once sent a eunuch to the house of the Megas Doux to demand that the boy be sent to him for his pleasure. Notaras, whose elder sons had been killed fighting, refused to sacrifice the boy to such a fate. Police were then sent to bring Notaras with his son and his young son-in-law, the son of the Grand Domestic Andronicus Cantacuzenus, into the Sultan’s presence. When Notaras still defied the Sultan, orders were given for him and the two boys to be decapitated on the spot. Notaras merely asked that they should be slain before him, lest the sight of his death should make them waver. When they had both perished he bared his neck to the executioner. The following day nine other Greek notables were arrested and sent to the scaffold.

    This is not to minimize the horror inflicted on the Byzantines by the Ottomans. But in reporting such incidents it is best to be scrupulously accurate, lest your “facts” be challenged.

  10. The cities of China would not be “Muslim” in any era I am familiar with.

    And the issue is not merely size. Baghdad is huge in population, but when it comes to culture, art, architecture, or any other standard of measurement, it is less significant a city than Boston. Never mind the SWEAT assesment. (Sewage, Water, etc–acronym used to report on basic infrastructre for population centers)

  11. Adaneshju,

    You know what I find really funny?

    You decry the actions of Christians engaged defending themselves and liberating conquered territory, but excuse the behavior of Muslims engaged in wars of conquest aimed at enslaving and looting people who never harmed them.

    The Reconquista, for all that it has been a politically correct bogey-man, was a fundamentally defensive war by the surviving Christian kings of Spain against an enemy that attacked them and did their best, consistently over a period of centuries, to wipe them out.

    And to understand Russia in Central Asia, you have to understand what came out of Central Asia on a regular basis. Russia was conquered by the Mongols, who converted to Islam and terminated their early policies of religious toleration. This provoked massive resistance from the Russians which eventually threw off the yoke of political subjugation. But until Central Asia was pacified, the ‘Tartars’ continued to engage in slave-taking raids in Russia, killing anyone they couldn’t make a profit on. A few centuries of this, and I’d be ready to engage in some fairly rough tactics to shut this system down myself.

  12. I took a look at the demographics in France two years ago.

    France isn’t likely to be Islamized. The differences in birth rates are relatively small and shrinking, while language shift to French and declining rates of religious practice are whittling away at Muslim solidarity.

    The major problems facing France relate to economic factors, to the exclusion of French of recent immigrant stock (Maghrebin, North African, Portuguese) from the high-income and high-employment sectors of the French economy, this exclusion effecting particularly men.

  13. One more note.

    [U]ntil Central Asia was pacified, the ‘Tartars’ continued to engage in slave-taking raids in Russia, killing anyone they couldn’t make a profit on. A few centuries of this, and I’d be ready to engage in some fairly rough tactics to shut this system down myself.

    This may explain why, in central Asia, first Tsarist then Soviet authorities committed multiple genocides and mass murders against the different Muslim populations in the region. I fail to see how indiscriminate attacks made against people on the grounds of their ethnicity could ever be defended.

  14. Randy, what do you think our bombing campaigns against the Japanese and the German were? What were those attacks but “indiscriminate attacks made against people on the grounds of their ethnicity.”

    And about your prescriptions for France, which are wrong.

    France will be thoroughly islamised, or France will be awash in the blood of the muslim.

    THERE isn’t a third option.

    And for my part, if I were a betting man, I would wager on the later.

    The muslims won’t win. Although they’ll come damn close.

    Ultimately, at the last resort, Europeans will discard political correctness, remember their martial past, and embark upon a bloody swath through their own continent.

    It will be just like the Spanish reconquista, but faster, and far more horrific. Because this time, there won’t be any Christian brake upon the bloodletting.

    The scene will be one of thoroughly modern and secular man, making war upon those he deems a threat, a mortal threat, and thoroughly savage.

    Sometimes, I almost feel sorry for what is surely coming for the muslim. Because it’s not going to be pretty. They have no idea what they are exhuming from the tomb, it’s Europe’s martial core, the essence of what made the West militarily dominant, the West’s martial preemeninence.

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