Ex-Classics Home Page



Illustration -- Constantinople

A. D. 1453, Constantinus Paleologus being emperor of Constantinople, the 29th day of May, the great city of Constantinople was taken by the Turk Mahomet, after the siege of fifty-four days, which siege began in the beginning of April. Within the city, beside the citizens, were but only six thousand rescuers of the Greeks, and three thousand of the Venetians and Genoese. Against these, Mahomet brought an army of four hundred thousand, collected out of the countries and places adjoining near about, as out of Grecia, Illyrica, Wallachia, Dardanis, Triballis, Bulgaria, out of Bithynia, Galatia, Lydia, Sicily, and such other; which places had the name yet of Christians. Thus one neighbour for lucre sake helped to destroy another.

The city was compassed of the Turks both by the sea and land. Mahomet the Turk divided his army into three sundry parts, which in three parts of the city so beat the walls and brake them down, that they attempted by the breaches thereof to enter the city. But the valiantness of the Christians therein won much commendation; whose duke was called John Justinianus, of Genoa. But forasmuch as the assaults were great, and the number of the Christian soldiers daily decreased, fighting both at the walls and at the haven against such a multitude of the Turks, they were not able long to hold out. Beside the armies which lay battering at the walls, the Turk had upon the sea his navy of two hundred and fifty sail, laying upon the haven of the city, reaching from the one side of the haven's mouth unto the other, as if a bridge should be made from the one bank to the other. Which haven by the citizens was barred with iron chains, whereby the Turks were kept out a certain space. Against which navy seven ships there were of Genoa within the haven, and three of Crete, and certain of Chios, which stood against them. Also the soldiers issuing out of the city, as occasion would serve, did manfully gainsay them, and with wild-fire set their ships on fire, that a certain space they could serve to no use. At length the chains being burst, and a way made, the Turk's navy entered the haven, and assaulted the city; whereby the Turk began to conceive great hope, and was in forwardness to obtain the city. The assault and skirmish then waxing more hot, Mahomet the tyrant stood by upon a hill, with his warriors about him, crying and howling out unto them to scale the walls and enter the town; otherwise, if any rebelled, he threatened to kill them, and so he did. Wherefore a great number of his soldiers, in their repulse and retire, were slain by the Turk's men, being sent by his commandment to slay them; and so they were justly served, and well paid their hire.

Although this was some comfort to the Christians, to see and behold out of the city the Turk's retinue so consumed, yet that hope lasted not long. Shortly after, by rage of war, it happened Justinian, the duke above named, to be hurt; who, notwithstanding that he was earnestly desired by Paleologus the emperor, not to leave his tower which he had to keep, seeing his wound was not deadly dangerous; yet could he not be entreated to tarry, but left his standing, and his fort disfurnished, setting none in his place to award the same. And so this doughty duke, hurt more with his false heart than with force of weapon, gave over and fled to Chios, where shortly after for sorrow, rather than for soreness of his wound, he died. Many of his soldiers, seeing their captain flee, followed after, leaving their fort utterly destitute without defence. The Turks, understanding that vantage, soon burst into the city. The Emperor Paleologus, seeing no other way but to fly, making toward the gate, either was slain, or else trodden down with the multitude. In the which gate eight hundred dead men's bodies were found and taken up.

The city of Constantinople thus being got, the Turks sacking and ranging about the streets, houses, and corners, did put to the sword most unmercifully whomsoever they found, both aged and young, matrons, virgins, children, and infants, sparing none; the noble matrons and virgins were horribly ravished, the goods of the city, the treasuries in houses, the ornaments in churches, were all sacked and spoiled, the pictures of Christ opprobriously handled, in hatred of Christ. The spoil and havoc of the city lasted three days together, while the barbarous soldiers murdered and rifled what them listed.

These things thus being done, and the tumult ceased, after three days Mahomet the Turk entereth into the city, and first calling for the heads and ancients of the city, such as he found to be left alive, he commanded them to be mangled and cut in pieces. It is also (saith my author) reported, that in the feasts of the Turks, honest matrons and virgins, and such as were of the king's stock, after other contumelies, were hewn and cut in pieces for their disport.

And this was the end of that princely and famous city of Constantinople, beginning first by Constantinus, and ending also with Constantinus, which for the princely royalty thereof was named and ever honoured, from the time of the first Constantine, equally with the city of Rome, and called also by the name thereof new Rome, and so continued the space of eleven hundred and twenty years. I pray God that old Rome may learn of new Rome, to take heed and beware betime.

This terrible destruction of the city of Constantinople, the queen of cities, I thought here to describe, not so much to set forth the barbarous cruelty of these merciless murderers, as specially for this, that we, being admonished by the doleful ruin and misery of those equally christened with ourselves, may call to mind the plagues and miseries deserved, which seem to hang no less over our own heads; and thereby may learn betime to invocate and call more earnestly upon the name of our terrible and merciful God, that he, for his Son's sake, will keep us, and preserve his church among us, and mitigate those plagues and sorrows, which we no less have deserved, than these above minded have done before us. Christ grant it, Amen.

Previous Next