Let's Sue Them All!!!

The Byzantine Disaster


"By 1453, triple-walled Constantinople, one of the most coveted and magnificent cities in the world, had stood watch over the Bosporus for 2100 years. For the last 1100 of these, it had been the capital of the Byzantine Empire, crown of the Eastern Christian world and an international center of wealth, beauty, power and commerce. Constantinople was named in the fourth century for the reigning Roman emperor, Constantine the Great; in antiquity the city was known as Byzantium, and today it is called Istanbul."

"Also by 1453, Constantinople had been besieged many times--by Persians, Avars, Arabs (twice), Bulgars, Russians (three times) and Pechenegs. During the Byzantine era, it had been conquered only once--in 1204, by soldiers of the Fourth Crusade. The city served as the capital of the Crusaders' short-lived Latin kingdom until it was recaptured by the Byzantines in 1261."

"And by 1453, the Byzantine Empire had been shrinking steadily for some 400 years, due to both internal political strife and military pressure from rival powers of both East and West. The capital city had suffered along with the rest of the empire. By 1453, Constantinople's population, once a million strong, had shrunk to a mere tenth of that. Although its historic luster had been tarnished, Constantinople, the gateway to Europe, was nevertheless an alluring military objective for the Ottoman Turks as they consolidated their hold in Asia Minor and Eastern Europe."

"The Muslim Turks had first crossed into Europe a century earlier, invited by a pretender to the Byzantine throne who needed Turkish troops to enforce his claim. A decade later, in 1354, the Ottomans established a permanent presence in Europe, taking advantage of a devastating earthquake in Thrace to cross the Hellespont, occupy the ruined city of Gallipoli and rebuild it into a garrison town. From there, the Turks spread out into other parts of Thrace. In 1377, their forces defeated a large Serbian army on the Maritsa River, paving the way for future victories in Macedonia, Serbia and Greece. The second most important city of the Byzantine Empire, Thessalonica, fell to the Ottomans in 1430."

"Despite several military assaults on Constantinople itself, Ottoman efforts to wrest the capital from Byzantine control proved unsuccessful. According to an ancient belief popular with the inhabitants of the city, Constantinople would fall only when the moon gave a sign."

"During the Byzantine capital's waning days, in May of 1453, the ancient myth appeared to come true. As the city lay besieged by the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, the moon went into a long and dark eclipse. Constantinople's Byzantine defenders were filled with paralyzing despair; outside the walls, Ottoman troops enjoyed cautious hope."

"Constantinople's final days under Byzantine rule witnessed still other unusual, seemingly apocalyptic occurrences: abnormally violent weather, lurid sunsets and sunrises, and flickering lights visible in the night sky. All were metaphysically interpreted as portents of a great change in the world order."

"Today, 500 years later, an American astronomer has proposed that a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific--half a world away from the Byzantine Empire--may have been powerful enough to darken the skies over Constantinople and to produce the other curious phenomena that coincided with the city's historic change of power. Kevin Pang, formerly of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, points to the volcano Kuwae, which erupted in the New Hebrides, 1900 kilometers (1200 miles) east of Australia. Although the date of the blast is not certain, much evidence points to the year 1453."

"... The volcanic cloud from Kuwae, Pang hypothesizes, would have shrouded the earth thickly enough to darken the moon above Constantinople beyond the usual, dulled-copper appearance of a lunar eclipse. Similarly, the cloud of suspended particles could be responsible for the unseasonably cold weather, with rain and snow, and for the bizarre optical effects reported by various chroniclers, all of which are phenomena now known to be associated with volcanic eruptions. But Kuwae remains unique, says Pang, because it appears to have thrown its volcanic veil over one of the great turning points of world history."

"By the time Mehmet II's campaign to conquer Constantinople began, in the spring of 1453, the Ottomans had already reduced the ailing Byzantine Empire to fragments. Mehmet, barely 21, had succeeded his father Murat II as sultan just two years earlier. Intelligent and inquisitive, Mehmet had been an assiduous student of philosophy, science and the governmental arts. The Byzantines, however, underestimated the young sultan's talents and resolve. They failed to grasp the seriousness of his commitment, dating from the moment of his father's death, to capture Constantinople and make that city the crowning jewel of the expanding Ottoman Empire."

Reprinted with permission from "Constantinople's Volcanic Twilight," Written by Lynn Teo Simarski in Aramco World, November/December, 1996, pages 8-15.