Sunday, April 17, 2011

Constantinople - The Last Great Medieval Siege

Some historians say that the medieval era came to an end in 1453. This particular year was witness to two major historical events:

1. On 19 October 1453 the French captured Bordeaux bringing the 100 Years War to an end.

2. On 29 May 1453 Constantinople fell to Mehmed II bringing an end to the Byzantium empire and creating the foundations for modern Turkey.

Roger Crowley's book on the fall of Constantinople provides a good description of the events before during and after the seige. There is also a lot of good detail about this within Wikipedia. Many of the events around the seige will be covered by later medieval castle blog posts but for the moment it is worth considering a number of lessons which come from this extraordinary event.

The Winning Strategy
Although the seige was relatively brief, lasting from 6 April to 29 May, there were a large number of strategies tried by Mehmed II:

1. The introduction of seige guns with probably the first artillery bombardment in history

2. The failure of seige towers 3. The attempt to undermine the walls 4. The naval manoeuvres, including the transportation of the muslim fleet across land to avoid the steel chain which had been laid across the Bosphorus

5. The struggle to fill in the ditch or fosse to provide easier access to the Walls

Just one of the attacks needed to succeed. Whilst the defenders fought back against each new initiative they only had to lose one battle and the city would fall.

Importance Of Seiges
Modern artillery has consigned true seiges to the history books but looking back it is impossible to underestimate the importance of seiges in deciding the outcome of wars. For instance, look at the 100 Years War which ended in the same year. The English won at Crecy and at Agincourt but it was the French ability to withstand seiges and to stretch the English resources which ultimately won the day.

Use Of Gunpowder
The use of seige guns at Constantinople as well as at the battle of Castillon two months later in July ushered in the military use of gunpowder and effectively signalled the end of the use of heavy cavalry horses.

The Holy Roman Empire
Constantinople was looked upon as the second Rome and the last bastion of the Holy Roman Empire. The fall of the city was a traumatic event for the west and brought the muslim armies into Europe from Asia.

It had been 181 years since the ninth medieval Crusade (the last) and despite papal pleas to start a crusade to liberate the city there was no action. Effectively, the years of the medieval crusades were ended.

Trade With The East & The Development Of Sea Routes
The loss of the city persuaded many traders to look for alternative routes for the spice trade. This led to the development of new sea routes and one spin off was Columbus's voyage to America in 1492.


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