Let's Sue Them All!!!

The Byzantine Disaster


Three Genoese ships, chartered by the Pope, reached the city on April 11, 1453, being delayed by weather. (6)

In 1452 Byzantium counted on the West. If only the Pope, or Venice, or Genoa would send a fleet, the Infidels would have to withdraw. Neither of these great republics would want to see the Straits fall under the control of the Sultan; and the Pope could not want a victory of the Crescent over the Cross. (4)

In 1452, the Pope could not muster any help. The Duke of Burgundy was not interested in helping, France and England were recovering from the 100 Years War, Portugal and Castile were involved in Crusades of their own, and the Kings of Scotland and Scandinavia knew nothing and could care less. (6)

In November, 1423, Emperor Manuel's son, John VIII, went to look for help from the western Christian world. He set out for Venice and Hungary. While he was gone, his brother Constantine, the regent, immediately arranged a new peace treaty with Sultan Murad, signed on February 22, 1424. (5)

Mehmed, the new Sultan was 19 years old in 1451. Within months he made treaties with John Hunyadi of Hungary, George Brankovich of Serbia, the Doge of Venice, the Prince of Wallachia, and the Genoese lords, and swore to live at peace with Constantine. But then after putting down an uprising, Mehmed decided to build forts on both sides of the Bosphorus at its narrowest point. (6)

Constantine spent the winter of 1453 making frantic appeals to the Pope and the Italian naval powers to save him. Venice and Genoa could have done much more, but they did not realize the danger to their Eastern trade. Giovanni Guistiniani brought two galleys and 300 men. Venice commissioned the bailiff at its factory at Galata to arm such able-bodied Venetians as were with him for the protection of the city..."Either Genoa or Venice could have thrown a hundred galleys and twenty thousand men into the scale if they had chosen." Nicholas V was willing enough to help. But all that the Pope could send was a Cardinal, a moderate sum of money, and a few hundred soldiers of fortune hastily hired in Italy. (7)

John returned from his travels in Italy and Hungary at the beginning of November 1424. The Catholic King of Hungary had advised him that his chances of securing aid from western Christendom would be better if he and his people would swear obedience to the Pope in Rome. (5)

At a council in September, 1439 in Florence, John "reminded the Pope that he had promised to send at least two warships for the defense of Constantinople by the end of spring, because there were ominous signs that the Sultan was preparing a great offensive." Nothing came of his request. (5)

The Pope called for a Crusade, in 1440, against Byzantium's enemies after a Danubian fortress had surrendered in 1439 to the Turks. Belgrade still held but the rest of northern Serbia was under Turkish control. In 1441 the Sultan's army crossed into Transylvania. Hungary would be next. (6)

In June of 1439 a union of the Greek and Latin churches (Orthodox and Catholic) was achieved. (5)

The Turks failed to capture Belgrade in 1440. The Pope called for a crusade. It was to be led by King Vladislav of Poland and Hungary, while troops recruited by the Pope in the West were commanded by Cardinal Julian Cesarini. In 1444 the force reached Varna, on the Black Sea, and was attacked by the Turks. The Crusaders fled, and King Vladislav and Cardinal Cesarini were killed. In 1448, another Hungarian force was defeated, on the plain of Kossovo. It was the final Western attempt to support the dying empire. (9)

Constantine appealed to Pope Nicholas V for aid and the result was the last temporary union of the two churches in 1452, which divided the Greeks at a vital time in their history. (12)

The Hungarians, together with the Serbs under George Brankovich, formed the bulk of the Pope's Crusade in 1441. Ladislas (the king of Hungary and Poland) was named the leader, and a Hungarian general, the brilliant John Hunyadi, (Leader) of Transylvania, was given the supreme command. Organization was given to Cardinal Guiliano Cesarini. The fleet was to be provided by the Venetians, the Duke of Burgundy and the Pope, and sail to the Black Sea, then up the Danube if necessary to meet the army. (6)

Constantine rallied to the defense of the capital a force comprising all the city's able-bodied inhabitants. "But of these 5,000 Byzantines and 2,000 foreigners, only a small proportion were professional military men. The foreigners were mostly Venetian and Genoese, the latter under the command of the brilliant Giovanni Guistiniani Longo. The defenders were well armed with javelins, arrows, muskets and mangonels for casting stones, but they faced a force at least 80,000 strong." (9)

In 1423 the outlook was dismal. The city of Thessalonica was under siege by the Turks. During the summer the Byzantines offered Thessalonica to the Venetians; and in September the city changed hands and became the largest and the most lucrative of all the Venetian colonies in Greece, only to fall to the Turks in 1431. (5)

An important meeting of the Venetian senate was held in Venice in 1453. The doge, Francesco Foscari was opposed to sending aid, because a proposed marriage between Constantine and his daughter had been agreed to when Constantine was only the ruler of Morea. Once he had become emperor the marriage was canceled, and when the doge insisted on the marriage he became Byzantine's enemy. (5)

The defenders watched for the Venetian fleet in May of 1453. They "searched the enemy-infested seas of the archipelago; sailed north and far to the west, but in vain. Byzantine would receive no help from the west." (4)

May 29, 1453 -- As waves of Turks poured into Constantinople, the Emperor Constantine fell fighting and a Venetian fleet, "detained first by the long discussions in the senate and then by a wind, waited while the city was systematically looted, street by street and house by house...and then seeing that no more could be done, turned round and sailed for home. (2)

In Feb. 1453, the Venetian senate realized the seriousness of the situation and voted to send 2 transports, with 400 men each and 15 ships to follow. March 2 it was still being discussed. They didn't leave until April 20. (6)

The next months [from December 1452] every foreigner was anxious to escape while opportunity allowed...The Venetians, more concerned for their merchandise than for Constantinople, agreed to a reluctant compromise. Three galleys and two light vessels would stay. The rest left. (2)

" February 26, 1453 Pier Duranzo slipped out of Constantinople harbor by night, bound for Venice. The same night also saw the escape of six Candian vessels, homebound with a cargo of cloth goods. A number of important personages escaped along with them, about seven hundred in all.' " (2)

For the Byzantine Emperor, "the disaster at Varna meant the end of all his work, failure of his diplomacy, the end of his hopes. The emperor, as a vassal of the Sultan, was forced to welcome him home and congratulate him on his victory." (6)

Constantine spent the next two years repairing the damage to the city done by the new artillery, in 1446, while the Sultan attacked John Hunyadi, now Regent of Hungary. Hunyadi was ready for him and marched out to join forces with the Albanian Scanderbeg. But Scanderbeg was busy fighting the Venetians, so, Hunyadi faced the Sultan alone and was defeated at Kosovo in 1448. Hunyadi escaped, only to be caught by his former ally George Brankovich, now a faithful vassal of the Sultan, who held him until he agreed to pay for damage caused by his army in Serbia. (7)

Girolamo Minotto, a leader of the Venetian colony in the city, promised every support and regularly assured the emperor a relief expedition was on the way. He had requested one in February, 1453. May 3-23 a small boat sailed, looking for the fleet. On May 23 they reported the Venetian fleet was nowhere in sight. (6)

John VII went to Venice and got promises of assistance, to Paris where Charles promised to give [him] French reinforcements. Manuel visited King Henry IV of England (December 1400) where he was promised substantial help, which did not materialize. (3)

[John VII] endeavored to sell his claim to the imperial crown of Byzantium to the King of France. [1398] (3)

(April, 1453) 79 Turkish ships were anchored in the Golden Horn! A Venetian sailor, had a plan: a surprise attack on the Turkish fleet. But two Genoese arrived from Galata with a message:.. "Delay this expedition for a few days and we shall be able to add our forces to yours." The offer was accepted but when the attack went forward the Turks were ready! They had been warned! "In fact the Genoese of Galata had lost no time in betraying their co-religionists." (4)

Altogether the Franks, counting both trained mercenaries and armed burghers, were not more than three thousand strong. Yet either Genoa or Venice could have thrown a hundred galleys and twenty thousand men into the scale if they had chosen." 1453 (7)

"John Guistiniani was an outstanding man. This Genoese nobleman had rushed to the threatened town. (1452) Energetic, bold, intelligent, he had a great reputation in the Christian world. More than once during the siege he was to withhold victory from the Turks....If many of his troops were of poor quality, he had 700 of his own Genoese: 300 sailors and 400 soldiers dressed in iron." (4)

The impoverishment of the Empire reached into the palace... "Table service was no longer of gold and silver but of lead and earthenware. The gems...had been replaced by glass. The Great Palace had long since been abandoned and was falling into ruins....The diminished revenue made it impossible to balance the budget. [The emperor attempted to tax foreign grain but the Genoese collected 87 per cent of the customs duties on the Bosporus and fiercely resisted any infringement on their monopolies." This had led to a short war between Constantine and Genoa 100 years before, [won by Genoa.] (3)

"Who knew the quantities of money and the many promises our emperor gave and sent to the lords...by way of Galata in order to receive some soldiers, who never came." (1453) "Who knew that the Catalan king requested possession of Lemnos in order to defend against the Turks by sea and to assist the City when the need arose? He was given Lemnos." 1453 (11)

"Four ships from Genoa managed to slip through [April, 1453]." (2)

(1395)"Bayazid...invaded the Peloponnese, established direct rule over most of Danubian Bulgaria and extended authority over Wallachia. The Pope preached a crusade, and King Sigismund of Hungary led a host of Latin knights into Danubian Bulgaria. Wallachia joined them." The Crusaders were soon camped outside Nicopolis on the southern bank of the Danube. Bayazid, who had been attacking Constantinople, marched north, and when Sigismund saw him he suggested that Vlach and Hungarian infantry attack the Turks and that the knights from Europe form the second line. "The Latin knights rejected this proposal as an affront and, their rich armor glittering, rode full-tilt at the foe." They overwhelmed the Ottoman front line, moved forward, were surrounded and surrendered. The Vlach retreated across the Danube and the Hungarians fled at "the sudden appearance of the Sultan's Serbian vassals." [1398] (3)

25,000 Crusaders set off in 1443 and destroyed Turkish forces outside the Serbian city of Nish, then marched into Bulgaria where Sofia surrendered to them just before Christmas. The Sultan was worried. The crusade seemed to be winning and he also had problems in Anatolia where an uprising was occurring, and in Albania where George Kastriotes the famous Scanderbeg had revolted. Constantine had occupied Athens and Thebes and forced the Duke to pay him the tribute that he had been giving the Sultan. (6)

"When Ladislas (Vladislav) of Poland campaigned against the Turks but lost at Varna in 1444, Emperor John only watched. "He was too cautious to stir a finger to aid the Hungarians, for he knew that if he once offended the Sultan his days would be numbered... John passed away in 1448 and Sultan Murad died in 1451." (7)

In June 1444, ambassadors from King Ladislas, George Brankovich and John Hunyadi were received at the Sultan's court in Adrianople and signed a 10 year truce so that the Sultan was free to deal with his other problems. George Brankovich got Serbian territories back. But the Pope was angry. Hunyadi's victories and the promise of additional help from Venice made him think they could get rid of the Turks forever and he forced the Crusaders to continue their fight. (6)

Eleven days after the defeat at Kosovo, Constantine became the Emperor (his brother died childless). John VIII had 5 brothers (two had died). The other three fought over the throne even though Constantine had been selected by John. Constantine traveled to Constantinople in a Venetian ship. (6)

"In Rome what measures were taken by the Church to prevent our downfall? The emperor consented to have the Pope's name commemorated in our services [November 12, 1452]. Six months later we had received as much aid from Rome as had been sent to us by the sultan of Cairo [none]." (11)

George Brankovich followed the 1444 truce, but Ladislas decided to do as the Pope ordered and started off across Bulgaria toward the Black Sea near Varna where he expected to meet the Venetian fleet. However, the fleet was fighting the Sultan who, upon hearing the truce had ended, hurried up the Black Sea coast and on Nov. 10, 1444 attacked the Crusader army. Ladislas and Cesarini died. Only John Hunyadi escaped. This was the last Crusade ever to be launched against the Turks in Europe. (6)

George Sphrantzes, in 1444 became ambassador to Murad II and on the death of John VIII in 1448 "traveled to Murad and submitted for approval the selection of Constantine XI as emperor of Constantinople" (11)

Constantine was looking for a wife: either a Portuguese princess, the niece of King Alfonso of Aragon and Naples, or two others. While George Sphrantzes was trying to arrange a marriage, Sultan Murad II died. His widow, Maria, the daughter of George Brankovich and the stepmother of the new Sultan Mehmed was now available. Sphrantzes went to Brankovich and asked him for Maria's hand. He agreed, but Maria said no and she won. "Constantine never did find a new wife before he died." (6)

Constantine announced: " 'It is not in my power nor in the power of anyone here to surrender this city.' " (4)

"Constantine Palaiologos was the last Emperor of Constantinople, the New Rome. He was killed defending his city against the Ottoman Turks in 1453..." (5)

"The great Turkish gun, the Basilic, when into action for the first time on April 12, 1453. This monster nicknamed 'the Royal One' needed one hundred pairs of oxen to drag it, 100 men were in attendance on each side to support it, 200 workers flattened the road for it and 50 carpenters were ready....Its barrel was three feet in diameter and it fired projectiles weighing 1,500 lb.... [practice shot] was heard 13 miles away and the projectile made a crater six feet deep. This great gun had been made by a turncoat Hungarian Christian called Orban, or Urban, formerly in the service of Byzantium [who could no longer afford him]. " (4)

Eyewitness account (Nick Barbaro, a Venetian and a surgeon.) " 'In March, 1452, the Turk Mohammed began the construction of a formidable castle, six miles from Constantinople on the way to the mouth of the Black Sea. It had fourteen towers...Work proceeded steadily on the castle through the month of August 1452 and its sole purpose was the taking of Constantinople....The first shot fired by the great cannon of the castle sank a ship...carrying a cargo of provisions for the relief of Constantinople, and the date was November 26, 1452.' " (2)

"Although it was possible for the despot of Serbia to send money secretly from many places and men, did anyone see a single penny? On the contrary, they provided huge financial aid and many men to the sultan." [1453] (11)

In 1373 the Emperor acknowledged himself the vassal of Murad when the Ottomans conquered the Serbs and Bulgarians. [In 1387 Murad's troops took Sofia then met rebellious Serbs, Bosnians, Bulgars and Albanians at Kossovo in 1389. Murad died but his son Bayazid rallied and won a crushing victory.]

"Rumors persisted that help was imminent. Why not negotiate? So one day he sent an emissary to Constantine XI with favourable terms. If Byzantium surrendered, no harm would befall its citizens. They would be free to come and go and they would retain their possessions. Constantine...could be King of the Peloponnese." 1452 (4)

Mahomet (Mehmed) II, a young man of 23, cold, stubborn and ambitious, had sworn to take the city. On the day after he came to power he had his younger brother drowned in order to eliminate a possible rival. (4)

With a complete disregard for treaties, he had already built a formidable castle fortress on the Greek shore of the Bosphorus... with the object of preventing Byzantium from getting provisions by sea. On November 26, 1452, a Venetian ship laden with barley had tried to force a way through. The owner of the ship was captured and impaled on a stake 14 days later. (4)

Manuel II, however, appealed to Christian princes to save his sacred city. Finally, in 1399, a small fleet bearing Marshal Boucicaut over a thousand men from France, Genoa, Venice, Rhodes and Lesbos anchored in the Golden Horn. Manuel cleared the suburbs of Turks, defeated a Turkish squadron and reprovisioned the city.

In 1422 the Ottomans attacked Constantinople using cannon for the first time. But they were pushed back. (3)

"So diminished was the city of New Rome [1432] that ruins abounded. Vacant houses were used as firewood, and large areas were now copses, orchards, gardens and tilled soil." (3)

"John VIII had neither land nor gold with which to purchase Western aid." (3)