Its fall solidified the chain of events that would destroy Christendom… [For lack of time, this will be hurried and brief]
Today, May 29, marks the 556th year since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the majestic, corrupt, beautiful capital of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
By the time its metropolis fell to the Ottomans, who felt confirmed in their declared role as vanguards of Islam, the once great empire was long prostrate and enfeebled, a slivery shadow of the domain of Justinian and the Macedonians, and of Caesar and Trajan. Nonetheless, its fall solidified the chain of events that would destroy the West’s greatest attempt to build, however imperfectly, a multinational Christian civilization in turbulent, too-often-invaded Europe.
For it was the Islamic threat on Europe’s southeastern marches that, in the critical 16th century, kept the Holy Roman Empire from defeating the Neomanichaean rebellion of Protestantism, whose corrosive apostasy would eventually undermine all barriers to the worship of the Self. And it was Islamic conquest that, in the 17th century, kept the Slavs from aiding their fellow-Christians against the hereticated North, whose victory, aided by the treason of France, led to Wesphalia’s conferment of godhood on the State.
How much tragedy came about because Constantinople fell! How many souls were damned through heresy because a schismatic empire died!
For lack of time to write more, we reproduce here a previous post summarizing the story of the city’s fall:
…With the fall of Acre, the only Western Christian strongholds left in the Levant were Cyprus and Rhodes, too weak to undertake major land operations; and so the Ottoman Empire, the proud heir of the Umayyads and the Abbasids, was free at last to focus its energies on conquering Africa and the Eastern Roman Empire. Ottoman forces then wept through the Aegean into the Balkan Peninsula, destroying the last colonies of Byzantine power.
Constantinople was at last surrounded, and, having lost its people and lands, the Eastern Roman Empire was powerless to reverse the Islamic tide. Once more, it begged the West for aid; envoys were sent to the Pope; and Western Christendom’s answer was a multinational Crusade to rescue the Empire. It went overland from Germany, aiming to relieve Constantinople by defeating the Ottoman army that lay athwart its path. However, the composite force of French, German, and other Western forces had no effective unified command, and when they met the Ottomans at Nika, the militarily inept French cavalry, intent on winning the glory, scuttled the battle plan with a premature charge (as brilliantly described by Barbara Tuchman). The battle turned into a rout, and thus, with the Western defeat, the last hope of Byzantium was lost.
Nothing more could stop the Ottoman Empire. Gibbon, Carlton Hayes, and a host of other historians have told and retold the sad story of what followed, but it can be summed up in this, that one by one, Byzantine cities and towns were put to the sword, till all that remained of the Eastern Roman Empire, which under Justinian, had stretched from Rome to Syria, was a portion of the Peloponnesian peninsula in southern Greece, the land surrounding Constantinople, and the coast of Pontus along of the Black Sea, centered on the city of Trebizond. It was militarily helpless; all that kept it alive for another century after Nika was the decision of the Ottomans to deal first with the Christian kingdoms in the Balkans, and with the independent Islamic principalities.
Within a hundred years, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania among Christian states, and Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis among the Islamic, bowed before the Sultan. Then, at last, in 1453, after the Peloponnesus had been taken, came Constantinople’s turn. The last Eastern Roman army, strengthened by a force of Western knights, fought valiantly but in vain to withstand the Ottoman siege. Finally, a part of the wall collapsed, and Turkish soldiers swept through the outnumbered defenders into Constantinople. It was the end, though Trebizond held out for another four years.
Thus was the great center of Rome’s ancient power finally lost, and with it the Empire that had long guarded the eastern marches of Christian Europe against the advance of Islamic power. The heartland of Eastern Christianity moved to Russia, which struggled for the next five centuries to recover Byzantium; and the peoples of Eastern Europe–Slav, Magyar, Romanian, and German–, aided by the Popes and by Hapsburg Spain, became the bulwark of the Cross, paying with blood for the ill-used freedom of the West. The fall of Constantinople was a political catastrophe, but it masqueraded as a political non-event, so feeble had the Empire become in its dotage; and no one now weeps for the day the Crescent flew over the Hagia Sophia…