1453: Fall of Constantinople
The Fall of Constantinople was a shocking awakening for the Western Catholic world, as odd as that seems given the previous entries on this list. By the mid-15th century, the Ottoman Turks had control of everything surrounding the great city. The Byzantines had some territory in Greece and on the southeast coast of the Black Sea, all cut off by Ottoman territory.
The Romans (as the Byzantines still saw themselves as Roman) had been in existence for over 2,000 years. They still had an immense amount of pride and would not agree to any of the Ottoman attempts to gain the city through diplomacy. They had, after all, successfully defended the city’s walls many times against numerous enemies with only the debacle of the 4th Crusade. Emperor Constantine XI resolved to stand and fight with about 15-20,000 troops including civilian militia and 25 ships against Mehmed II and his 80,000 men and 70 ships.
When the siege began, Mehmed brought game-changing weapons from the mysterious cannon designer, Orban. These massive cannons punched holes in the famous triple walls of Constantinople. Mehmed sent in his masses of troops including the handgun-armed Janissaries, but the defenders had some gunpowder too.
Primitive shotgun-like cannons were toted to new breaches in the walls and rained hot shrapnel down on the bottlenecked assault forces. The impressive walls may have crumbled before the cannons, but barrels or heaps of dirt took their place as each assault was beaten back. The patchwork dirt defenses did an excellent job of absorbing further bombardment and this discovery would lead to the impressive star forts of the Renaissance.
When Mehmed couldn’t get his ships across the heavy Byzantine chain guarding the river harbor, he ordered greased logs to be laid out on the isthmus separating the harbor and the sea. The Ottoman navy was dragged across the land and into the harbor. Mehmed impaled the captured Byzantines who tried to set the Ottoman ships on fire. In response, the Byzantines brought the Ottoman prisoners to the walls and executed them in full view of the Sultan’s army. A grim tone for the rest of the siege.
Mehmed eventually grew too frustrated and resolved to launch a massive assault on the city. Following fierce bombardments, the Ottoman infantry rushed the walls. The Byzantines held where they could, but an unguarded gate was left open and the elite Janissaries poured through and overwhelmed the thinly-stretched defenders. Constantine XI was said to have ridden to his death on a final charge into the enemy.
The city fell, but at a terrible cost for the Ottomans. For Mehmed, it was worth it; Constantinople would become Istanbul and the capital of the empire. Much of modern-day Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary were now under Ottoman control. The exodus of scholars and knowledge from the city likely fueled the start of the renaissance but it also made the Europeans realize that they needed to act. The fractured and smaller countries had no hope of fending off the Ottomans on their own, so massive coalitions were formed as a massive battle of ideologies was beginning to increase in intensity.