40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople

Trista - July 11, 2019

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A gate in the walls of Constantinople. Wikimedia.

15. The Original Walls Are Sturdier Than Modern Repairs

In an incredible testament to ancient architecture, many of the walls of Constantinople still stand today. In the late 20th century, the UNESCO world heritage organization decided to attempt a restoration of portions of the wall that had lapsed, trying to recreate the ancient look. Ironically, an earthquake leveled the 20th-century repairs while leaving the old walls intact. It was later found that poor materials and methods were used in the modern maintenance.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A section of the Theodosian Walls. Wikimedia.

14. The Walls Were Almost as High as a Four-Story Building

The famed Theodosian Walls, which were a marvel of early engineering and construction, were truly unimaginably high, especially for the era. They reported stood at least 12 meters high, which is almost 40 feet. Typically, a story of a building is roughly calculated as 10 feet, so the walls around Constantinople were virtually four stories high. It’s no wonder they survived so many sieges!

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
The fall of Constantinople. Ancient Origins.

13. Constantinople’s Fall Marked the End of the Middle Ages

The Fall of Constantinople was a truly momentous event in history. Not only was it the final nail in the coffin of the Byzantine Empire, and thus all of the Roman Empire, but many historians also argue it heralded the end of the Middle Ages overall. Given Constantinople’s size and place in history, it’s perhaps not surprising that its fall signaled the end of an entire era.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
Theodosian era ruins in Constantinople. Wikimedia.

12. Constantinople’s Influence Wasn’t Done

The taking of Constantinople became a huge point of pride and success for the Ottomans. From that place of strength, they were able to invade the Balkans and establish the Ottoman Empire. With this area of control and power, they were able to wage war with and threaten Western Europe up until the start of the 20th century.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
An illustration of Byzantines using Greek Fire. Wikimedia.

11. A Game of Thrones’ Wildfire Was Real

Anyone who has watched George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, or read the book, is no doubt familiar with the Wildfire. Able to burn on, even underwater, it was used significantly to protect King’s Landing from naval attack. Terrifying, this is no fantasy. The Byzantines had a substance known as Greek Fire that could burn under water. It is still unknown what the compound consisted of, as it was a state secret that creators took to their graves.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
An illustration of the Fourth Crusade besieging Constantinople. Wikimedia.

10. The Crusades Ruined Everything

Various crusades had been raging throughout the Middle East for some time, but it was the fourth crusade that really ruined things for Constantinople. The fourth crusade found itself in the city during a time of great unrest and regime change and decided to take advantage of that instability and ransack the town. They began their siege in the spring of 1204, determined to take the city in the name of their version of Christendom.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A Tintoretto painting of the Fourth Crusade. Wikimedia.

9. Crusaders Used Weather to Their Advantage

The fourth crusaders were a clever lot. They knew the odds were against them in besieging the well-defended Constantinople, so they looked for any small opportunity to gain an advantage. They found their saving grace in the same wind that had knocked down poor Constantine. The Crusaders took advantage of strong northern winds to attack the towers protecting the Golden Horn.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A manuscript illustration of the Fourth Crusade attacking Constantinople. Wikimedia.

8. The Crusaders Left Absolute Carnage In Their Wake

With the wind at their backs, the Crusaders were able to reach the city itself which shocked and demoralized its defenders. Emperor Alexios V fled to the countryside, and the city fell. The resulting slaughter was truly horrifying, as the Crusaders rampaged throughout the city for three days and nights destroying priceless artifacts and visiting rape, death, and more upon the citizens of Constantinople.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A 6th-century Orthodox icon of Christ. Wikimedia.

7. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches Held Grudges

Part of what led to the invasion of Constantinople by the Crusaders was an earlier slaughter of Latins, or western Catholics, during a period of unrest within the city. Western Europeans sided with the Latins and wanted revenge on the Orthodox church for the killings. After the fall of the city, the horrifying violence of the Crusaders led the Orthodox church to hold a strong grudge against the Western church which lasted for centuries.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
The site of Constantinople’s Hippodrome. Wikimedia.

6. Straight Outta Constantinople

While Gangs of New York may be a more famous title, the Gangs of Constantinople would make an even more exciting film. While much of history focuses on the architecture and sieges of the city, less often discussed is the fact that the city was home to numerous gangs connected to chariot racing. Political influence and rampant street violence were tied to the groups, in a manner reasonably similar to modern soccer hooliganism.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople

5. A Roman (Or Byzantine) Rivalry

Two major factions of chariot racing hooligans had developed by the 6th century A.D.: the blues and greens. Much like the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry in baseball, these two factions vehemently opposed each other with feuds often spilling over into violence. However, harsh actions against both gangs by the Emperor Justinian led to a brief truce that united the blues and greens against the empire.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A mosaic of Emperor Justinian. Wikimedia.

4. NIKA! NIKA! NIKA!

The brief collaboration of the Blues and Greens led to, you guessed it, a sports riot! After some prominent Blues and Greens were executed at Emperor Justinian’s command, the next chariot race saw the two gangs unite to create a disturbance out of the audience in attendance. Senators, unhappy with Justinian, used the chaos as an opportunity to make demands of Justinian, with many hoping to see him toppled as Emperor. The riots are called the Nika Riots due to the chant of “Nika” used by the crowds, which meant victory.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A mosaic of Empress Theodora. Wikimedia.

3. Empress Theodora Was a Boss

During the height of the Nika Riots, Emperor Justinian was preparing to flee the city to save himself. He knew the mob (and many of the Senators) wanted his head. He may well have escaped, ceding the city and perhaps the empire itself, to an upstart had it not been for his strong and commanding wife, Empress Theodora. She reported told Justinian, “Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress.” These words caused Justinian to stay strong and keep control of the city.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A portrait of Sultan Mehmed II. Wikimedia.

2. Mehmed Approaches

The final challenge to the Byzantine Empire and Christian control of Constantinople came in 1453, at the hands of Sultan Mehmed II. He led a vast army of over 200,000 soldiers and a fleet of at least 100 ships with cannons to besiege the city. Constantinople was greatly outnumbered and lacked the firepower of the Ottoman army.

40 Facts About the Glorious Rise and Brutal Fall of Constantinople
A painting of Sultan Mehmed II’s entry into Constantinople. Wikimedia.

1. Whoops, Left a Gate Open

Despite the superior numbers and firepower, Constantinople was not quick to fall. The city had survived the siege for two months when discontent began to spread among the Ottomans, with Mehmed’s Grand Vizier publicly criticizing the cost of the war effort. Then, a miracle (for the Ottomans) happened: someone left a gate open into the city, allowing the soldiers to walk right in, literally. To this day, historians aren’t sure how or why the gate was left open; if it was a raiding party returning to the city or a repair crew attempting to shore up a door. Regardless of the cause, it was the moment of fatal error that led to the fall of Constantinople.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“42 Epic Facts About Constantinople”, Kyle Climans, Factinate. October 22, 2018.

“10 Things You May Not Know About Constantinople”, Evan Andrews, History. June 2, 2016.

“Constantinople” Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. April 2019.

Advertisement