Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Fall of Constantinople

ON THIS DAY in 1453 in the Julian calender, Constantinople, the greatest city in Christendom, fell to the Turk, ending the Byzantine Empire which existed over a thousand years, and ending the history of the Roman Empire.  Subsequently, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the honorary head of the Orthodox Churches, was appointed by the new Muslim masters of the city, ending hopes for reunion between the Churches of the Greek East and Latin West.

In the morning of that day, Catholic and Orthodox knights attended the Divine Liturgy in the Hagia Sophia, the greatest of all Christian churches; in the evening, this building became a Mosque.

The symbols of the city, the star and crescent, subsequently became the symbols of Islam due to this defeat.


  1. The "greatest of all Christian churches"... according to whom? based on what?

    I would disagree...

  2. Appealing to Google, of the top ten search results for "greatest church in Christendom", 8 refer to Hagia Sophia, one to Saint Peter's Basilica, and one is indeterminate.

  3. Saint Peter's Basilica would be the greatest nowadays, I'm sure; but back then, Old St. Peter's was falling apart.

  4. Ah, searching for "greatest of all Christian churches" only returns four hits, one each of St. Peter's and Canterbury Cathedral, and two for Hagia Sophia (although one of the hits is this article!)

  5. "[T]he Great Prince of Kiev sent embassies around the world to find the faith that best suited his nation and people. Travelling from nation to nation they visited Muslims and Jews at worship observing their forms of worship and pondering the way of life that each religion taught. The emissaries judged neither of these worthy religions suitable for Russ. Finally, they visited the city of Constantinople and attended Divine Liturgy in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia. The Russians were dumfounded by the richness and sublime beauty of the service, the church and the celestial singing of the Byzantine choirs in the lofty, domed cathedral. They breathlessly reported back to Kiev that in Hagia Sophia they were unable to tell if they were on earth or in heaven. The choice was made, Byzantine Orthodoxy it would be."

  6. In 1453, Constantinople no longer was "the greatest city in Christendom", nor had it been so since the crusader rape of 1204.

    Neither did this event mark the end of the Roman Empire, which continued until Napoleon abolished it in 1806. However, one could make a case for the Roman Empire ending in 410, when Rome pulled its legions back from the extremities of the empire.

  7. The Byzantine Empire was in historical and political continuity with the Rome of the Caesars, whereas the Holy Roman Empire was not.

    Yes, the Fourth Crusaders were bad, and they were excommunicated.

    I've read that Constantinople had a population of about 50,000 at the time of its conquest, which is among the upper end of city populations in that period in time, however, it was far past its glory. So much land in the city was empty that farming resumed within the city walls.