Mohammed II and his army approach Constantinople
The Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Paleologus could count on only 5,000 local and 2,000 foreign troops to defend the triple walls that would have to be breached by the enemy. He also had the services of the renowned siege defensive expert, Giovanni Giustiniani, who brought 700 knights and archers from Genoa and the Greek island of Chios. Mohammed II threw against the walls of the city 70,000 regular troops and 20,000 men known as Bashi-Bazouks, who were fighting only for the loot of the city if it fell. The Janissaries, young men captured from Christian families as slaves and raised as fanatical Moslem suicide special forces troops, were there in abundance. The attackers were also well supplied with artillery, including a cannon called “the Basilica,” 27 feet long and capable of throwing a stone ball of 600 pounds.
After 12 days of bombardment, several breaches in the walls appeared, but the soldiers who stormed the weakened walls were thrown back with heavy losses. The attack on the city began on April 6, but a month later, the Sultan’s soldiers were no closer to taking the city and had suffered many dead and wounded. Attempts at digging mines under the walls to blow them up were all discovered and the attackers were roasted with “Greek fire” or drowned by flooding. Siege towers were destroyed by fire and wave after wave of attackers — including the Janisseries — were hurled back by the exhausted defenders. On May 29, in the midst of waves of attacks, some Turks found a small door in the wall — probably accidentally left open — and made their way inside, seizing a tower and running the Sultan’s flag up the flagpole. The defenders fell back and then their defenses collapsed.
The Ottoman Turks transport their fleet over land into the Golden Horn
The people inside the city were killed or enslaved, probably about 50,000. A few surviving soldiers managed to escape, though their commander, Guistiniani, succumbed to wounds. Constantine XI died in battle. The Turkish armies moved westward and laid siege to Vienna, a military conflict with the West that would last another couple hundred years and some would say is continuing now, by other means. Sixty years after the fall of Constantinople, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, and the harried Holy Roman Empire, distracted by the aggressions of the Muslims, would not be able to focus attention on what otherwise would have been the destruction of the Protestant Reformers.
Mohammed II. (c. 1430-81) enters Constantinople