It takes a nation to protect the nation
I have put this article here as I think the loss of Constantinople is a pivotal historic event in the struggle against the spread of Islam, and one which should always be remembered, used in argument, and used to draw particular lessons. Constantinople, the primary centre of Christianity and the largest city of the latin empire, fell on the 3rd assault over 200 years. So if all we do is sit passively back and merely respond to attacks by defending ourselves, then one day we will most surely fall. One day the enemy will attack us when we are weakened by disease, or by internal political dissension, or by failure of the economy, or by a natural disaster (like an earthquake), or by disaffection of the youth, or distracted by other projects, or simply tired out after all the previous fighting. And on that day, as with Constantinople, our capitals can fall. To avoid that, one must pro-actively and punitively respond to attack, so the enemy is chastened into not trying again for a very long time, or never, and in that time one is able to recover one's energies.
You should also read the follow-on article, "The Fall of Constantinople - 2".Just a few points from the articles below that I would highlight:1. The central church, the Hagia Sophia, now has minarets. What would be the reaction, I wonder, if Christian countries were to convert mosques in their territories to churches?2. "Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine/East Roman Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922)"."Constantinople became in truth the largest city of the Empire and of the world. The wealth of the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Asia flowed into Constantinople"So this was the largest city in the world in its heyday and the capitol of Christendom and of the major Western civilisation. Yet it was lost to Islam, and who even remembers this today? Our unfaithfulness to that memory is bordering on treachery and even complicity. If Islam lost Mecca, you can be sure every last muslim would violently fight and die to regain it.3. A key part of the attack was made by the Janissaries. These were young Greek boys stolen from their Christian parents and trained to be killers for Islamic Jihad. I think we need to ask ourselves, faced with such a ruthless, cruel and amoral opponent, how would our own philosophy and warfare stack up? Contemplating suicide bombings and 9/11, we need to reconsider exactly how ruthless and cruel we can be, and what are all the options open to us.4. "Far from being in its heyday, by then, Constantinople was severely depopulated as a result of the general economic and territorial decline of the empire following its partial recovery from the disaster of the Fourth Crusade inflicted on it by the Christian army two centuries before."So Constantinople had become weak internally before it was conquered by Islam. Does that remind you of any countries now?
Constantinople (Greek: Κωνσταντινούπολις, Konstantinoúpolis, or ἡ Πόλις hē Polis, Latin: CONSTANTINOPOLIS, in formal Ottoman Turkish: Konstantiniyye) was the capital of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine/East Roman Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). Strategically located between the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara at the point where Europe meets Asia, Byzantine Constantinople had been the capital of a Christian empire, see Christendom, successor to ancient Greece and Rome. Throughout the Middle Ages Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city, known as the Queen of Cities (Vasileuousa Polis).
Depending on the background of its rulers, it often had several different names at any given time; among the most common were Byzantium (Greek: Byzantion), New Rome (Greek: Νέα Ῥώμη, Latin: Nova Roma) (although this was an ecclesiastical rather than an official name), Constantinople, and Stamboul.
Constantinople was founded by the Roman emperor Constantine I on the site of an already existing city, Byzantium, settled in the early days of Greek colonial expansion, probably around 671-662 BC. The site lay astride the land route from Europe to Asia and the seaway from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, and had in the Golden Horn an excellent and spacious harbour.
Constantine had altogether more ambitious plans. Having restored the unity of the empire, and being in course of major governmental reforms as well as of sponsoring the consolidation of the Christian church, he was well aware that Rome was an unsatisfactory capital. Rome was too far from the frontiers, and hence from the armies and the Imperial courts, and it offered an undesirable playground for disaffected politicians. Yet it had been the capital of the state for over a thousand years, and it will have seemed unthinkable to suggest that that capital be moved. Nevertheless, he identified the site of Byzantium as the right place: a place where an emperor could sit, readily defended, with easy access to the Danube or the Euphrates frontiers, his court supplied from the rich gardens and sophisticated workshops of Roman Asia, his treasuries filled by the wealthiest provinces of the empire.
Constantinople was built over six years, and consecrated on 11 May 330. Although the city was essentially Greek-speaking, Latin was the language of government. It became known as Constantinopolis, "Constantine's City".
Constantine divided the expanded city, like Rome, into 14 regions, and ornamented it with public works worthy of an imperial metropolis. Yet initially Constantine's new Rome did not have all the dignities of old Rome. It possessed a proconsul, rather than an urban prefect. It had no praetors, tribunes or quaestors. Although it did have senators, they held the title clarus, not clarissimus, like those of Rome. It also lacked the panoply of other administrative offices regulating the food supply, police, statues, temples, sewers, aqueducts or other public works. The new programme of building was carried out in great haste: columns, marbles, doors and tiles were taken wholesale from the temples of the empire and moved to the new city. Similarly, many of the greatest works of Greek and Roman art were soon to be seen in its squares and streets. The emperor stimulated private building by promising householders gifts of land from the imperial estates in Asiana and Pontica, and on 18 May 332 he announced that, as in Rome, free distributions of food would be made to citizens. At the time the amount is said to have been 80,000 rations a day, doled out from 117 distribution points around the city.
Constantine laid out a new square at the centre of old Byzantium, naming it the Augustaeum. The new senate-house (or Curia) was housed in a basilica on the east side. On the south side of the great square was erected the Great Palace of the emperor with its imposing entrance, the Chalke, and its ceremonial suite known as the Palace of Daphne. Nearby was the vast Hippodrome for chariot-races, seating over 80,000 spectators, and the famed Baths of Zeuxippus. At the western entrance to the Augustaeum was the Milion, a vaulted monument from which distances were measured across the Eastern Empire.
From the Augustaeum led a great street, the Mese (Greek: Μέση (Οδός) lit. "Middle Street"), lined with colonnades. As it descended the First Hill of the city and climbed the Second Hill, it passed on the left the Praetorium or law-court. Then it passed through the oval Forum of Constantine where there was a second senate-house and a high column with a statue of Constantine himself in the guise of Helios, crowned with a halo of seven rays and looking towards the rising sun. From there the Mese passed on and through the Forum of Taurus and then the Forum of Bous, and finally up the Seventh Hill (or Xerolophus) and through to the Golden Gate in the Constantinian Wall. After the construction of the Theodosian Walls in the early 5th century, it would be extended to the new Golden Gate, reaching a total length of seven Roman miles.
Map of Constantinople (1422) by Florentine cartographer Cristoforo Buondelmonti  is the oldest surviving map of the city, and the only one which antedates the Turkish conquest of the city in 1453
The fall of Constantinople
Dec 23rd 1999 |From the print edition
GREEKS still consider Tuesday an unlucky day. May 29th 1453, was a Tuesday; the day that Constantinople, the place they called—and often still call—the queen of cities, or simply “the city” was overrun by the Ottoman forces that had bombarded its mighty walls for the past 40 days.
In the history of warfare, this was a watershed. It proved that gunpowder could batter down the strongest walls enough to let the attackers in; the age of immobile, iron-clad soldiers defending big stone fortresses was over. But far more was over than that.
The Byzantine defenders and their Venetian and Genoese allies had noticed portents since the lunar eclipse a week earlier. An icon of the Virgin Mary slipped from its platform as it was carried through the city; then a thunderstorm halted the procession. As dusk fell on May 28th, the Emperor Constantine warned his subjects they might have to sacrifice their lives for the faith, family, country and sovereign. The clergy—bitterly divided by doctrine, as Christianity's 400-year-old east-west schism deepened—put aside their differences to hold an evening service in Saint Sophia, the greatest church of eastern Christendom.
In the small hours next day, the final assault began, with a deafening noise of trumpets, drums and war-cries. The Genoese ran down to the sea after their commander was wounded; eventually a dozen Greek and Italian ships, laden with terrified refugees, reached the open sea. The besiegers—the irregular, ill-trained bashi-bazouks and the elite janissaries—poured in.
Smashing through the great bronze doors, they burst into the morning service at Saint Sophia. The worshippers were massacred or captured; many priests died by the altar. Later Sultan Mehmet, the impulsive 21-year-old who had flouted all his elders' advice in besieging the best-defended city in Europe, walked into the building and ordered an imam to claim it for the Muslim faith. But he stopped a soldier hacking at the marble pavings: looting—for one day, not the usual three—all right, but not vandalism.
Mehmet also took care to preserve intact the city's second most-important church, that of the Holy Apostles, and hand it to the Greek Orthodox patriarch. Though much misused by the temporal authorities, the patriarchate survived as an institution for administering the Greek and other Orthodox Christian communities in the new multinational empire. As a strange side-effect of the Muslim conquest, the doctrinal integrity of eastern Christendom was preserved: instead of the compromises with the Vatican that might otherwise have been inevitable, the patriarchate was able to hold to its view on the issues, such as the nature of the Trinity, that had led to so much bitter argument.
Nonetheless, the political capital of eastern Orthodoxy moved northwards to Russia, where patriots proclaimed that Moscow had become the third Rome after the conquest of Byzantium, which itself had been known as the new Rome.
The fall of Constantinople brought to a head many trends already under way. One was the slide of the Byzantine empire's power, as the loss of Anatolian lands left it short of revenue and recruits, and thus more dependent on fickle Italian allies; another the flight of Greek scholars (particularly brilliant in Byzantium's final years) to Italy, where they helped to stimulate the Renaissance.
Yet another was the emergent contest in south-eastern Europe between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. The Turks were besieging Vienna in 1683 and repeatedly at war with Russia or Austria in the 130 years thereafter. They held southern Greece until 1832, today's Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia and nominally Serbia until 1878, the lands south of these down to liberated Greece until 1913. Hence the Muslim pockets—Albania, Bosnia—that for most Europeans today are the only reminder that the country they see as a source of cheap, resented, migrant labour was once a mighty power in Europe.
But a part of Europe? Allied with Germany in the first world war, and therefore stripped of their remaining Middle Eastern empire, the Turks by 1922 were strong enough again to drive Greece's troops, and centuries of Greek society, from Anatolia. Old enmities were resharpened by the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974. If the European Union still hesitates, despite Turkey's decades inside NATO, about its wish for EU membership too, the real reasons lie centuries deep; not least in 1453.
Justinian the 1st was emperor of Byzantium from 527 to 565 CE. There is a recently released secret history of the time written by Procopius, from the Vatican archives. It is an amazing story of the depravity of the time - a time just 5 years before Mohammed was born.
Then if you look down the last list of Byzantine emperors here, the Palaiologan dynasty, most of the reigns are short, up until 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Muslims.
So I don't think Islam defeated Byzantium; I think the Christians defeated themselves, with decadence, corruption and infighting. Does that feel anything like today? like Afghanistan?