The Siege of Constantinople in 1453, according to Kritovoulos

This account of the siege and fall of Constantinople was written by Hermodoros Michael Kritovoulos, who was a civil servant working for Mehmed II. He served the Ottomans as the governor of his native island of Imbros from 1456 to 1466, and afterwards lived in Constantinople and became a monk. He composed in Greek a history of events from 1451 to 1467, a large section of which covers the siege of Constantinople. Kritovolous’ account is more positive towards the Ottomans than any other Greek work, and presents detailed information about the tactics and strategy of the besiegers. This particular history also offers interesting information about the cannons used in the siege. The section below, comprising of chapters 117 to 257 of Book 1, takes up the story shortly after the arrival of Mehmed II and his forces outside of the city.

Review of the whole army, and the assignment of the parts of the City on landward and seaward sides to the generals by the Sultan

117. After this, he reviewed the whole army and gave to the governors and cavalry captains and generals of divisions and chiefs of battalions, to each his orders, assigning the stations where they must guard and fight and giving them directions what to do. And he divided the whole City into parts, the land-walls and the sea-walls. To Zaganos and his men with certain others of the captains, he entrusted the siege of Galata and the region all around it, with the Horn and the entire harbor, going as far as what is called the “Wooden Gate” of the City. He ordered him to make a bridge across that part of the Horn, from Ceramica [The Brick-kilns] to the other side. Opposite them was the wall of the City. He knew that by sending the heavy infantry and the bowmen across this bridge, he could attack the City from every point, and so would make the siege complete.

118. To Karaja, the Governor of Europe, and to others of the generals, he committed the section from the Wooden Gate going up toward the Palace of Porphyrogenitus and extending to what is known as the Gate of Charisus; and he gave him some of the cannon, accompanied by the founders who had cast them, to bombard the wall at that point, if perchance it might be weak and vulnerable and he might knock it down.

119. And he assigned to Ishak, the Governor of Asia at that time, and to Mahmud, the Count of that region, brave men and men of remarkable experience and daring in battle, the section from Myriandrion to the Golden Gate and the sea at that point.

120. The Sultan himself, with the two Pashas, Halil and Karaja, took over the middle of the City and of the land-wall, where he certainly expected there would be the most of the fighting. He had with him the whole imperial guard, by which I mean the best of the infantry and the bowmen and the aides-de-camp and the rest of his personal forces, which were the finest in the army.

121. When he had thus deployed his land forces, and had secured the wall in every section by means of them, and had hemmed it in with his army, he entrusted the fighting by sea to Baltaoglou, a brave man, experienced in all sorts of maritime enterprises, and a skilled commander, whom he appointed Admiral of the whole fleet, and of all the shore, both Asiatic and European. He was the governor of Gallipoli. This man blockaded the entire sea-wall with his ships, from the Golden Gate at the corner as far as the Neorion region of Galata, a distance of just about forty-three stadia. The blockade included the chain and the fighting-ships and galleons anchored by it.

122. It was at this chain that he attacked daily, and he pushed the fighting, being desirous of forcing an entrance into the harbor, so that he might carry the battle to the whole of the wall along the Horn.

123. The entire circuit of the City as besieged by the army by land and sea, carefully calculated, was about 126 stadia; of this, only the wall along the Horn, inside the chain, was unguarded – 35 stadia; all the rest was defended.

124. Having done all this, the Sultan summoned the cannon-makers and spoke to them about the cannon and the walls, and about how the wall could most easily be demolished. They assured him it would be easy to demolish it if, in addition to the guns they already had (for they already had some others, made earlier), they should construct one more, which, they believed, would be strong enough to batter down and destroy the wall. For this, heavy expense was needed, to purchase both a large amount of brass and many other materials.

Statement as to the Construction of the cannon, and as to its shape and power

125. No sooner said than done. The Sultan immediately provided them in abundance with everything they needed, and so they constructed the cannon, a thing most fearsome to see and altogether unbelievable and hard to accept when one hears about it. I shall describe its construction, its appearance, and its power, as it really was.

126. Clay was mixed for many days, so as to make it very workable, made of the lightest, cleanest and finest earth. It was thoroughly mixed together and mingled with linen, hemp, and other such things combined and worked in, after having been chopped up fine, so as to form one body, continuous and inseparable.

127. Of this, a round model was constructed like a pipe, oblong, to be the core. The length of this was forty spans. Of this the forward half, for the reception of the stone cannonball, was of twelve spans as the circle and circumference of its thickness; while the hinder half, or tail, for the reception of the substance called “fodder” was of four spans or slightly more, as the circumference of its thickness, in proportion, I believe, to the whole.

128. There was also another, an outer casing, made to receive this, altogether hollow, and like a scabbard, but wider, so as to fit over the core and leave some space between. And the space between the core aIt1d the casing, uniform throughout the whole length, was of one span, or a little more. It was to receive the bronze poured out from the crucible to form the body of the cannon. And this outer mold was made of the same clay, but was completely bound around and protected by iron and wood and earth and stones built up and reinforced from outside, so that the great weight of the bronze bearing down within, might not break it apart or spoil the form of the cannon.

129. Two furnaces were then built, very near to the mold, ready for the foundry, very strong and reliable, made on the inside with burnt brick and of clay well worked and hardened, and on the outside completely strengthened with immense stones, lime, and everything else suitable for this purpose.

130. Of bronze and tin an amount of great value and of great weight was cast into the foundries – in fact, 1500 talents, as was reported. Besides, a great quantity of charcoal and of tree-trunks was heaped up on the outside of the crucibles, above and below and all around, to such a depth as to hide the furnaces, all but their mouths.

131. Around them were bellows blowing violently and continuously, setting fire to the whole mass for three whole days and as many nights, until the bronze was entirely melted and dissolved, becoming liquid and fluid.

132. Then, when the mouths were opened, the bronze poured out through the conduits into the mold until the whole receptacle was completely full, and it covered the inner core entirely, and overflowed this by a cubit in height; and thus was the cannon completed. After that, when the bronze had cooled off and become cold, it was cleared of both the inner core and the outer casing, and being smoothed and polished by scrapers, it shone altogether. Such was the construction and the form of the cannon.

133. And now I will speak of its method of working. First, what is called ”fodder” [powder] was put in, filling up tightly the rear compartment and cavity of the machine up to the opening of the second compartment which was to receive the stone cannonball. Then there was put in a huge rod of strongest wood, and this, pounded pard by iron bars, pressed down on the material inside, closing in and packing down the powder so completely that, whatever happened, nothing could force it out in any way except by an explosion.

134. Then they brought the stone also, pushing it in until they used the rod and fitted the stone in snugly on all sides.

135. After this, having pointed the cannon toward whatever it was intended to hit, and having leveled it by certain technical means and calculations toward the target, they brought up great beams of wood and laid them underneath and fitted them carefully. On these they placed immense stones, weighting it down and making it secure above and below and behind and everywhere, lest by the force of the velocity and by the shock of the movement of its own emplacement, it should be displaced and shoot wide of its mark.

136. Then they set fire to it through the short hole behind, igniting the powder. And when this took fire, quicker than it takes to say it, there was a fearful roar first, and a shaking of the earth beneath and for a long way off, and a noise such as never was heard before. Then, with an astounding thunder and a frightful crashing and a flame that lit up all the surroundings and then left them black, the rod, forced out from within by a dry hot blast of air, violently set in motion the stone as it came out. And the stone, borne with tremendous force and velocity, hit the wall, which it immediately shook and knocked down, and was itself broken into many fragments and scattered, hurling the pieces everywhere and killing those who happened to be near by.

137. Sometimes it demolished a. whole section, and sometimes a half-section, and sometimes a larger or smaller section of a tower or turret or battlement. And there was no part of the wall strong enough or resistant enough or thick enough to be able to withstand it, or to wholly resist such force and such a blow of the stone cannonball.

138. Such was the unbelievable and inconceivable nature of the power of this implement. Such a thing, the ancients, whether kings or generals, neither had nor knew about. Had they possessed it, nothing could have withstood them at all, nor stood up against them in their sieges; nor would it have been difficult for them to topple over and destroy walls. Even the best fortified of them would have offered no obstacle. They built walls, and dug entrenchments, and mined under the earth, and did all sorts of other things so as to secure possession of cities and capture forts, but all these would have surrendered quicker than it takes to tell it, if shattered and overthrown by these machines. But they had none.

139. This is a new invention of the Germans or Kelts, about a hundred fifty years ago or a little more – a very wise and ingenious invention. Especially the composition and formation of “fodder,” which is a combination of the very warmest and driest forms of nitre, sulphur, carbon, and herbs, making a dry and warm gas, which, being enclosed in the impervious, strong, compact body of the bronze and not having any other exit of any sort anywhere except this one, is impelled by the explosion and force from within and gives so great and powerful a force to the stone ball. But it also frequently causes the bursting of the bronze as well. Now no ancient name is found for this machine, unless someone may speak of it as the battering-ram or the propeller. But in common language everybody today calls it an apparatus. Such are the details about the cannon, as far as we have been able to learn from those who could inform us.

140. Sultan Mehmed, since the makers of the cannon had completed them successfully, ordered them to bring the cannon near the walls. Over against the Middle Wall where he had his camp, and where his tent was, he ordered them to set up three of them, chosen as the largest and most powerful, and to bombard and shake the wall at that point. He ordered the others to be brought up against portions of the wall here and there, choosing the most vulnerable and weakest parts of the walls. For he judged it best to attack the wall at many points, so that, after he had begun the battle in several placel, the capture of it would prove easier and more facile for him, as indeed it turned out to be.

141. And the cannon, on being brought up to the wall, shook it to pieces and toppled it down as they were expected to.

142. Then the Sultan filled up the moat in front of the cannon, bringing up stones and wopd and earth and collecting every other sort of material so that when the wall was battered down and had fallen, the way should be easier for the heavy infantry, and their approach and attack facilitated. And he ordered the sappers to dig underneath the wall, and to dig subterranean galleries in toward the City, so that the heavy infantry might get in secretly by night through these. This work also went forward, but later he deemed this superfluous and a useless expenditure, since the cannon were accomplishing everything.

Arrival of the Sultan at the fort of Therapia, and its capture in two days

143. While these events were occurring, the Sultan took some of the troops with him, including the entire Royal Guard, and went against the particularly strong fortress at Therapia. Having set up some cannon, he battered down and destroyed the greater part of it. Of the men within many died from the stone cannon-balls, while the rest of the defenders, unable to resist any longer, surrendered, saying he might do as he pleased with them. So he impaled them, being forty men.

Subsequent arrival at the Studius Fort, and the immediate capture of this

144. From there he went against another fort called Studius’s Castle. And when he had shattered it with his guns and thrown it down, he immediately entered it and impaled its thirty-six men, bringing them in front of the City wall so that they might be easily visible to those inside the City.

Voyage of Baltaoglou to the Island of Prinkipo; siege and capture of its fort

145. During those same days, Baltaoglou, Admiral of the fleet, left the greater part of his ships to attack the mouth of the harbor and the chain, so that none might sail in or out. He himself, with the rest, then sailed at the command of the Sultan against Prinkipo Island. There was there a very strong castle with a guard of some thirty fully-armed men aside from the local inhabitants. So he besieged it, brought up some cannon against the wall, and shattered and overthrew a part of this. But though he attacked in every way and tried all means, he was as yet unable to capture it.

146. At last he decided to use fire against the fort and see whether he could burn it down, providing a favorable wind should come up. Hence he ordered his men to gather great bundles of fagots of all sorts, reeds, twigs, weeds, and other inflammable things, and bind them together and place them against the wall. When this had been done in a short time by many hands and the material was heaped up to a great height, they set it on fire, having added brimstone and pitch. And this, being soon ignited by the flames and, as it happened, fanned by a breeze, made such a big flame, blazing up to such a height, that it rose higher than the turrets and caught inside the castle also. It burned up many of those within, and indeed came near destroying them all. The survivors barely escaped, being seriously endangered by the fire. They surrendered unconditionally to him. He took them all prisoners, sold the civilians as slaves, and killed the rest of the guards.

147. Now the Romans [Byzantines] and Giustinianni, seeing the City wall so severely battered and damaged by the guns, both within and without, extended great beams from above the wall, and let down bales of wool on ropes, and placed with them other similar things so as to break the force of the stone balls as much as possible and lighten the effect.

148. But since this proved of use only a short time and accomplished nothing worth mentioning inasmuch as the cannon were piercing and scattering everything and demolishing the wall – for already a large part of the lesser outer wall had fallen and also two towers and a turret of the main wall – they devised another thing. They brought up huge stakes and made a palisade along the damaged part of the wall-that is, on its outer side-fastening the stakes securely together. In addition they brought a quantity of all kinds of stones and wood, bundles of brushwood and branches and reeds and many other bushes of all sorts, putting them together in bundles and so raising the stockade higher. There were also screens, made of skins and hides, put over the wood of the palisade so that it should not be injured by the firebrand arrows. They thus had a fine shelter against the enemy, and a strengthening of the palisade from within, which was in place of a wall. Moreover the stone ball, hurled with great force, fell and was buried in the soft and yielding earth, and did not make a breach by striking against hard and unyielding materials.

149. On the top of the palisade and of the earthworks were placed rows of wooden containers filled with earth, to act as breastworks for the fighters in the forefront and as a protection so that they should not be hit by the arrows.

First Assault attempted by the Sultan against the wall, and its failure

150. When Sultan Mehmed returned from the fortresses, he believed he could after a few days try an assault on the City at the points where the wall had been broken through. Therefore, taking the heavy infantry and the bowmen and javelin-men and all the imperial foot-guards, he made a vigorous attack on the wall. The moat was already filled up, so the foot-soldiers, with shout and battle cry, quickly crossed it and assaulted the wall. First they tried to set fire to the gate, so as to burn the stockade and spread confusion and panic among their opponents in the fight.

151. But since this did not succeed as they had hoped, because the men who were stationed at the top of the stockade fought finely and put out the fire, they changed to another plan. Fastening hooks on the ends of their spears, they pulled down from above the wooden containers and thus stripped the defenders of their shelter. These containers had served them like the crenellations of a wall, but now the archers and slingers and javelin-hurlers could easily attack the undefended enemy. Others brought ladders and put them up against the wall and tried to climb up them while the cannon fired stones frequently against the defenders and did considerable damage.

152. Giustinianni and his men (for they and a considerable number of the Romans also, had been detailed to the damaged part of the wall), since they were fully armored, sustained no injury from the arrows or other missiles. Instead, they stoutly resisted, fighting bravely and using every measure to withstand and frustrate whatever their opponents did. At last the Romans and Giustinianni prevailed and repulsed them, though not without difficulty, and drove them from the wall, wounding many of them and killing not a few.

153. Other attacks were made daily, here and there, on the wall, especially where it had been demolished. During these attacks the defenders in the City were by no means worsted, but fought vigorously and resisted bravely.

154. Baltaoglou, after capturing the fortress [of Prinkipo], immediately sailed to the harbor where the other triremes were drawn up. On the second or third day he received an order from the Sultan to make careful preparation and collect his ships arid join battle with the galleons and triremes that were guarding the mouth of the harbor and the chain, so as to force an entrance if he could. The Sultan had determined by all means to get the harbor and the Horn under his control so that he might attack the City from all sides, by land and by sea, for he thought (as was true) that if he could make an opening in the sea-wall as well, the capture of the City would be easier for him, since the defenders were insufficient for the entire circuit, they being few and the circuit great.

Attack of Baltaoglou against the vessels at the entrance to the harbor, and at the chain; the great sea-battle

155. Having put all the ships in good condition and fully armed them, and the fighting men with them, Baltaoglou attacked the galleons and the chain with great force, fury, and vigor, and with shouts and battle cries. And first, having slowed down the ships, when they were about a bowshot from the enemy, they attacked from afar, firing on them and being fired upon with arrows and with great stone balls from the guns. Then he furiously attacked the center of the fleet. Of the heavy infantry on the decks, some carried fire in their hands with the purpose of setting fire to the ships. Others hurled flaming arrows, while others tried to cut the ropes of the anchors, and still others attempted to board the ships, climbing up by grappling-hooks and ladders. Others with javelins and pikes and long spears attacked the defenders. Their attack and their zeal for the task were very great.

156. Now those on the large galleons had already been prepared for such attack by the Grand Duke, who had been placed in command over the ships as well as of the sea-walls of the City; so, fighting from a higher position, and hurling down on the attackers stones, javelins, spears and pikes, especially from the crowsnests at the top of the masts, they succeeded in wounding many, and killed not a few. Furthermore they brought great jars of water to put out the fires, and heavy stones which they let fall, tied by ropes, and thus did a great deal of damage

157. There was the greatest zeal on both sides, and energy too, the attackers determined to prevail and to force their way in while the defenders were bound to fight their best to guard the harbor and the ships and drive off the enemy. At last the crews of the galleons, fighting magnificently, turned the flank of the attackers and drove them off, having proved themselves valiant men to the very end.

The invention of another and newer sort of cannon

158. Sultan Mehmed, seeing that he had been repulsed in this attack, set himself to discover another sort of machine. Hence, calling the makers of the cannon, he demanded of them whether it was not possible to fire cannon-balls at the galleons fighting at the entrance to the harbor, and sink them there. They replied that they were unable to do this, especially because the walls of Galata were in the way at every point. He then showed them another way to do this by a new form of cannon. For, he said, if they were willing, it was possible to construct a different sort of gun with a slightly changed design that could fire the stone to a great height, so that when it came down it would hit tht; shi~ amidships and sink them. He said that they must first aim it and level it, getting the measures by mathematical calculation, and then fire on the galleons. Thus he explained to them his plan.

159 When they had reasoned out the scheme, they decided it was possible. So they constructed a cannon of this type, as designed by the Sultan, and after a careful survey of the land, they placed it a little beyond the point of Galata on a slight elevation opposite the galleons. Then having aimed it with care, and after leveling it by a special design, they fired it by applying a live coal to it. It shot the stone up to a great height, but as this first stone descended, it missed the ships, falling into the sea quite near them. However, when they had immediately corrected the error by changing the aim a little, they fired again, and this stone went to an immense height and came down with tremendous crash and velocity, striking the galleon in the center. It immediately crushed it completely and sank it in the depths, killing some of those on board immediately and drowning others. The very few who were not killed swam with difficulty to the other galleons and triremes near by.

160. This unexpected event frightened all those in the City, and threw them into the greatest terror and anguish. Nonetheless, since this was the only possible safe step, the rest of the galleons and triremes werc retired a short distance to a safer place, and a guard was set. Thus they suffered no further injury from the cannon-balls, but strongly guarded the harbor and the Horn.

161. While affairs were !n this condition, not more than three or four days later, three large galleons appeared in the open sea sailing grandly along. The High Priest of Rome [the Pope] had sent these from Italy, bringing food and help to the City. He had already learned of the fighting and of the approaching siege of the City, so he had sent these ahead as help until he should fit out the rest of his fleet as well. He was preparing to send from Italy thirty triremes and galleons after these, as aid to the Romans and the Emperor Constantine, but these were delayed.

162. When the enemy saw these galleons sailing out in the open sea, they gave word to the Sultan, who immediately sent for Baltaoglou, Commander of the fleet, and ordered him to put out with the entire fleet as quickly as possible, putting on a full complement of rowers and others on all the ships and fighters on the decks, and arming them with every sort of weapon. He also put on board the ships many other weapons: shields, cutlasses, helmets, breastplates, also javelins, pikes, long spears, daggers, and whatever else was usable in this kind of fight. Furthermore he provided the ships With as many heavy infantry and bowmen as he could, and from his own bodyguard the best fighters, the bravest in battle, and those best armed. So, after equipping and preparing the fleet with plenty of men and all sorts of arms, he sent it out, ordering them either to capture the galleons and bring them to him or else never to come back safe themselves.

Attack by the Sultan’s fleet on the ships that appeared in the open sea; severe naval battle and failure

163. Baltaoglou took the entire fleet and started immediately against the transports in all haste and zealously, land also with ambition and hope of success. He almost imagined that they were already in his hands. When they came within range of his arrows, they first lay to for a little while, and then he had very lively skirmishes, with arrows and with stones hurled by his cannon and even with flaming arrows against the sails and the galleons, with the purpose of setting them on fire.

164. The men on the galleons also fought bravely. They attacked from a height, and in fact from the yardarms and the wooden towers they fired down with arrows, javelins and stones, impetuously and indeed successfully. There was much shouting, and men were wounded and killed on both sides.

165. When they had kept on in that way for a time, Baltaoglou set up a great shout and ordered the rest to do so too. Then with great speed and force he attacked the center of the galleons, and there followed a hand-to-hand fight as both sides attacked with small-arms. Altogether it was a terrible struggle. Some carried fire and tried to set the galleons ablaze from below. Others with axes and daggers tried to break through their sidewalls, while others with long lances and javelins shot at the warriors from below. Some hurled pikes and stones, and others climbed up, clinging to anchors and ropes, and tried to get aboard the ships. So in various ways they fought, wounding and being wounded, in ferocity and anger.

166. The men on board the galleons were fully armed and fought desperately against them from their higher position, defending themselves energetically against the attackers. First they emptied great vessels of water which they had hung over the sides, and dropped down from above heavy stones that they had tied with ropes. Thus they put out the fire and killed many. The stones, falling heavily and with great force on all who were attacking from below, sank some boats and injured others. After that, some of them hurled spears and javelins and pikes on the attackers, others threw stones from above, while others with their cutlasses cut off the hands of those who tried to board. Still others beat down with clubs and sticks and broke the heads of those men by their blows. There was great shouting and din on all sides as they encouraged each other, hitting and being hit, killing and being killed, pushing and being pushed, blaspheming, scolding, threatening, groaning – it was all a terrible noise.

167. And yet, although the men in the galleons struggled bravely, those in the fleet were getting the better of them through sheer force of numbers, for they fought by turns, relieving one another, fresh ones taking the places and work of those who had been wounded or killed. And those on the galleons would have lost hope of fighting successfully, because the battle had gone on so long, had not a south wind, suddenly coming up strong, blown into the bellying sails and powerfully swelled them out and driven the galleons along with great force. In a brief time they left behind the triremes, which could not keep up with the galleons. Therefore the fight died down, and they got safely away to the other galleons at the entrance of the harbor, and thus, in spite of their fears, were saved. They escaped a very great danger.

168. The Sultan, seated on his horse by the shore, watched these events and seemed to be encouraging his men as well as watching the outcome of the battle. For he felt absolutely sure his fleet would defeat the galleons and capture them and bring them as captives to him, and he was in great glee. But when he saw the wind freshening, and the galleons drawing away, he was immediately greatly chagrined. Whipping up his horse, he went off in silence.

169. Of the men in the galleons, universal testimony says twenty-two were killed, but more than half of the men in their complements were wounded.

170. Of the men in the Sultan’s fleet, a little more than a hundred were killed, and the wounded were more than three hundred. Baltaoglou, the admiral of the fleet, was hit in the eye with a stone. This contributed both to the safety of the galleons and to the saving of Baltaoglou himself from death by order of the Sultan, for the latter took very hard the escape of the galleons, and felt very badly at the affair, accusing Baltaoglou of cowardice and pusillanimity. Rather, he thought the outcome due to the admiral’s carelessness and idleness, and that the admiral had betrayed his plans. For he did not consider the failure in the matter of the galleons was a good omen for the task he had before him. Hence he relieved the admiral of the command immediately and gave the fleet and the governorship of Gallipoli to Hamza, one of his companions whom he greatly trusted in such affairs.

171. On the other hand, this unhoped-for outcome brought to the Romans more than a little respite and encouragement and filled them with better hopes, not only at what had occurred but also in expectation of better things to come – until they had to suffer badly. The evils had not yet come upon them. They were not to be happy for any length of time; they were to be captured, and given over to all sorts of evil, to captivity and slavery, murder, plunder, and the abuse of women and children.

A Surprising Plan and Decision

172. Sultan Mehmed considered it necessary in preparation for his next move to get possession of the harbor and open the Horn for his own ships to sail in. So, since every effort and device of his had failed to force the entrance, he made a wise decision, and one worthy of his intellect and power. It succeeded in accomplishing his purpose and in putting an end to all uncertainties.

173. He ordered the commanders of the vessels to construct as quickly as possible glideways leading from the outer sea to the inner sea, that is, from the harbor to the Horn, near the place called Diplokion, and to cover them with beams. This road, measured from sea to sea, is just about eight stadia. It is very steep for more than half the way, until you reach the summit of the hill, and from there again it descends to the inner sea of the Horn. And as the glideways were completed sooner than expected, because of the large number of workers, he brought up the ships and placed large cradles under them, with stays against each of their sides to hold them up. And having under-girded them well with ropes, he fastened long cables to the corners and gave them to the soldiers to drag, some of them by hand, and others by certain machines and capstans.

174. So the ships were dragged along very swiftly. And their crews, as they followed them, rejoiced at the event and boasted of it. Then they manned the ships on the land as if they were on the sea. Some of them hoisted the sails with a shout, as if they were setting sail, and the breeze caught the sails and bellied them out. Others seated themselves on the benches, holding the oars in their hands and moving them as if rowing. And the commanders, running along by the sockets of the masts with whistlings and shouting, and with their whips beating the oarsmen or the benches, ordered them to row. The ships, borne along over the land as if on the sea, were some of them being pulled up the ascent to the top of the hill while others were being hauled down the slope into the harbor, lowering the sails with shouting and great noise.

175. It was a strange spectacle, and unbelievable in the telling except to those who actually did see it – the sight of ships borne along on the mainland as if sailing on the sea, with their crews and their sails and all their equipment. I believe this was a much greater feat than the cutting of a canal across at Athos by Xerxes, and much stranger to see and to hear about. Furthermore, this event of but yesterday, before our very eyes, makes it easier to believe that the other also actually happened, for without this one, the other would have seemed a myth and sounded like idle talk.

176. Thus, then, there was assembled in the bay called Cold Waters, a little beyond Galata, a respectable fleet of some sixty-seven vessels. They were moored there.

177: The Romans, when they saw such an unheard-of thing actually happen, and warships lying at anchor in the Horn-which they never would have suspected – were astounded at the impossibility of the spectacle, and were overcome by the greatest consternation and perplexity. They did not know what to do now, but were in despair. In fact they had left unguarded the walls along the Horn for a distance of about thirty stadia, and even so they did not have enough men for the rest of the walls, either for defense or for attack, whether citizens or men from elsewhere. Instead, two or even three battlements had but a single defender.

178. And now, when this sea-wall also became open to attack and had to be guarded, they were compelled to strip the other battlements and bring men there. This constituted a manifest danger, since the defenders were taken away from the rest of the wall while those remaining were not enough to guard it, being so few.

179. Not only was there this difficulty, but, the bridge being completed, heavy infantry and bowmen could cross against the wall. Hence that part also had to be guarded. And the ships near the mouth of the harbor and at the chain, galleons and triremes alike, as well as the other ships in the harbor had the greater need to be on guard since now they were subject to attack from within as well as from outside. Therefore in many directions they appeared to have, and actually had, difficulties. Still, they did not neglect anything that could be done.

180. Giustinianni removed one of his galleons from the mouth of the harbor plus three of the Italian triremes, and took them against the end of the gulf where the Sultan’s ships were anchored. There he anchored so as to fight from them and prevent the [Ottoman] warships from going out anywhere in the gulf or being able to do any harm to the harbor or its shipping. This he thought was the best plan as a counter-measure. But it was only a temporary expedient.

181. For Sultan Mehmed, seeing this, made the following counter-moves: He ordered the cannon-makers to transfer the cannon secretly by night and place them near the shore, opposite to where the ships and the galleon were moored, and fire stones at them. This they did with great speed, and they hit one of the triremes in the middle and sank it with all on board, excepting a very few who swam to the other triremes. Then the crews quickly moved the ships away a good distance, and anchored there. If this had not been done quickly, the other triremes also would have been sunk, with their crews, as well as the galleon, for they seemed to have had no sense at all of their danger. They were thus very near to destruction, for the cannon were ready to fire the stone balls at them.

182. But when this failed, the Romans had nothing else they could do. They simply fired at the ships from the walls with catapults and javelins and prevented them from moving about. And from the triremes at the mouth of the harbor some attacked them every day and chased them back and prevented their injuring anything in the harbor. And they often pursued them till near the land, toward their own men. Then these ships would again turn and attack the triremes, and men would follow on foot, firing and being fired on, and so they had long-range exchanges daily.

Of Some Marvels

183. During those same days there occurred the following divine signs and portents of the terrors that were very soon to come to the city. Three or four days before the battle, when all the people in the City were holding a religious procession, men and women together, and marching around with the Icon of the Mother of God, this latter slipped suddenly from the hands of its bearers without any cause or power being apparent, and fell flat on the ground. And when everybody shouted immediately, and rushed to raise up the icon, it sank down as if weighted with lead, and as if fastened to the ground, and became well-nigh impossible to raise. And so it continued for a considerable time, until, by a great effort and much shouting and prayers by all, the priests and its bearers barely managed to raise it up and place it on the shoulders of the men.

184. This strange occurrence filled everyone with much terror and very great agony and fear, for they thought this fall was no good omen – as was quite true. Later, when they had gone on but a short distance, immediately after that, at high noon, there was much thunder and lightning with clouds, and a violent rain with severe hail followed, so that they could neither stand against it nor make any progress. The priests and the bearers of the icon and the crowds that followed were depressed and hindered by the force of the waters that flowed down and by the might of the hail. Many of the children following were in danger of being carried away and drowned by the violent and powerful rush of water, had not some men quickly seized them and with some difficulty dragged them out of the flood. Such was the unheard-of and unprecedented violence of that storm and hail which certainly foreshadowed the imminent loss of all, and that, like a torrent of fiercest waters, it would carry away and annihilate everything.

Still another portent

185. Such, then, were the events of the first day. On the next day in the morning a dense fog covered the whole city, lasting from early morning till evening. This evidently indicated the departure of the Divine Presence, and its leaving the City in total abandonment and desertion, for the Divinity conceals itself in cloud and appears and again disappears. So then, this happened thus and let no one disbelieve, for there were many witnesses of these things, observers who were both visitors and dwellers in the City.

186. For Sultan Mehmed, then, all went well. There was as yet no hindrance, for both the inner wall and the outer one had been wrecked to the ground by the cannon; the whole moat was filled up; the Horn and all the wall along its shores had been opened up for battle by brilliant tactics; and the siege was complete all around the City, with ladders, wooden towers, and all the rest well prepared. And the siege had lasted quite a while, for nearly fifty days had passed. But there was fear lest something might happen, or that help might appear by sea from somewhere. The Sultan had already heard that a convoy of ships had arrived in Chios, so he knew he had better not delay any longer or wait further, but should join battle quickly and try to capture the City with all speed and with all his force, by an attack by land and sea, and make this greatest and final attempt on it.

187. So he called together all the high officers and those in his entourage, namely: the governors, generals, cavalry officers, majors and captains, the captains over a thousand, over a hundred, and over fifty, and the sub-officers of his soldiers and the cavalry of his body-guard; also besides these, the captains of the heavy transports and of the triremes, and the Admiral of the whole fleet; and he made the following speech.

Second Address of the Sultan, calling upon all to fight bravely, and promising them that they would be rewarded with goods and many other fine things, if they fought well

188. “My friends and my comrades in the present struggle! I have called you together here, not because I would accuse you of any laziness or carelessness in this business,. nor try to make you more eager in the present struggle. For a long time past I have noted some of you showing such zeal and earnestness for the work that you would willingly undergo everything necessary rather than leave here without accomplishing it, and others of you not only zealous themselves but even inciting the rest with all their might to redouble their efforts.

189. “So it is not for this that I have called you together, but simply in order to remind you, first of all, that whatever you have at present you have attained, not by sloth and carelessness, but by hard work and with great struggles and dangers together with us, and these things are yours as the rewards of your own valor and manliness rather than as gifts of fortune. And secondly, as to the rewards now put before you here, I wish to show you how many and how great they are and what great glory and honor accompany the winning. And I also wish that you may know well how to carryon the struggle for the very highest rewards.

190. “First, then, there is great wealth of all sorts in this city, some in the royal palaces and some in the houses of the mighty, some in the homes of the common people and still other, finer and more abundant, laid up in the churches as votive offerings and treasures of all sorts, constructed of gold and silver and precious stones and costly pearls. Also there is countless wealth of magnificent furniture, without reckoning all the other articles and furnishings of the houses. Of all these, you will be the masters!

191. “Then too, there are very many noble and distinguished men, some of whom will be your slaves, and the rest will be put up for sale; also very many and very beautiful women, young and good-looking, and virgins lovely for marriage, noble, and of noble families, and even till now unseen by masculine eyes, some of them, evidently intended for the weddings of great men. Of these, some will be wives for you, while others will do for servants, and others you can sell. So you will gain in many ways, in enjoyment, and service, and wealth.

192. “And you will have boys, too, very many and very beautiful and of noble families.

193. “Further, you will enjoy the beauty of the churches and public buildings and splendid houses and gardens, and many such things, suited to look at and enjoy and take pleasure in and profit by. But I must not waste time listing all these. A great and populous city, the capital of the ancient Romans, which has attained the very pinnacle of good fortune and luck and glory, being indeed the head of the whole inhabited globe – I give it now to you for spoil and plunder – unlimited wealth, men, women, children, all the other adornments and arrangements. All these you will enjoy as if at a brilliant banquet, and will be happy with them yourselves and will leave very great wealth to your children.

194. “And the greatest of all is this, that you will capture a city whose renown has gone out to all parts of the world. It is evident that to whatever extent the leadership and glory of this city has spread, to a like extent the renown of your valor and bravery will spread for having captured by assault a city such as this. But think: what deed more brilliant, what greater enjoyment, or what inheritance of wealth better than that presented to you, along with honor and glory!

195. “And, best of all, we shall demolish a city that has been hostile to us from the beginning and is constantly growing at our expense and in every way plotting against our rule. So for the future we shall be sure of guarding our present belongings and shall live in complete and assured peace, after getting rid of our neighboring enemies. We shall also open the way to further conquest.

196. “You must never imagine that, although this is all true, the City is impregnable or its wall hard to approach and difficult to pierce, or that very great danger awaits those who attack it, as if it were not easily to be taken. Lo, as you can see, the moat has all been filled up and the land-wall at three points has been so broken down that not only heavy and light infantry like yourselves, but even the horses and heavily armed cavalry can easily penetrate it. Thus I do not offer you an impregnable wall, but a wide plain fit for cavalry for you to cross with your weapons.

197. “And what should I say about our opponents? There are very few of them, and most of’ these are unarmed and inexperienced in war. For, as I have learned from deserters, they say that there are but two or three men defending a tower, and as many more in the space between towers. Thus it happens that a single man has to fight and defend three or four battlements, and he, too, either altogether unarmed or badly armed.

198. “How then can they do anything against such a multitude as we are? And especially since we are fighting by relays, and new troops are constantly coming into the fray, so that our men have time to indulge in sleep and food and to rest themselves, while they on the other hand fight continuously, without intermission, and desperately, and have no time to snatch sleep or food or drink or rest, since we are attacking in battle and forcing the fighting. Now we shall no longer merely use skirmishes and sallies, or simple attacks and feints, as we did at first-and as they anticipate – but once we have begun to fight, the battle will be continuous and uninterrupted, night and day, without any rest or armistice until all is up with them. Therefore I think these men, under the constraint of continuous fighting and of distress and starvation and sleeplessness, will easily yield to us.

199. “And as for such Italians as are stationed on the ruined wall, if any think these are seasoned veterans able to defend themselves against the attackers, as though they were well armed and experienced in battle, especially behind fortifications, I, at least, believe the opinion of such persons altogether incredible and mistaken.

200. “In the first place, being intelligent men, they will not be willing to fight on behalf of the goods of others, or suffer and expose themselves to evident risks when they have nothing to gain for themselves. And besides, they are a motley crew, coming from here and there and thinking simply of getting something and going back home in safety, not of dying in battle. For the present they do actually bear it and keep on, because we have been bombarding and attacking only at intervals, and they think that in future also we will go at it as if in child’s play.

201. “But when they see the battle rolling in on them, and brilliantly and relentlessly pressed on every side, and death imminent before their eyes, then I am perfectly sure they will not hesitate at all, but will throwaway their weapons, turn their backs, and flee, and never turn around. And there will be nothing to deter them or give them courage at all.

202. “But even if by some means they should stand firm, so be it! We will still easily put them to flight by our might and experience and daring. Thus even in that case I do not in the least think we have any good reason at all for worry. All things go to show that victory is on our side, and that we shall capture the City. As you see, it is entirely surrounded, as if in a net, by land and sea; and it cannot. finally escape our arms and our grasp.

203. “Then be brave yourselves and urge all the men under you to follow you bravely, and to use all zeal and diligence in the task, in the belief that there are three elements in good fighting: the will to fight, a realization of what is and is not honorable, and obedience to authority. Know that this obedience involves each keeping his own position and going to the attack quietly and in good order so that one can quickly hear the commands given and pass them on to the rest: when they must advance silently, to be silent, when they must shout and yell, to do so with fearsome yells. For while many of these things are wise in every sort of fighting, they are not the least so in battles at the walls. As for the rest, order them all to do everything well and in good order and discipline.

204. “So then, fight bravely and worthily of yourselves and of those who have fought before you; and do not weaken, for you see how much hangs on this struggle, and do not allow any of your men to do so either. I myself will be in the van of the attack [applause by all the gathering]. Yes, I myself will lead the attack, and will be fighting by your side and will watch to see what each one of you does.

205. “Go back, then, each one to his post and his tent, have your supper and rest yourselves. Give like orders to the men in your commands. Then be up early and get your divisions in good order and well arranged, paying no attention to anything outside and listening to no one else. And let the ranks keep silent. But when you hear the battle-cry and see the signal, then get to your jobs!

Position and orders given the generals

206. “You, then, Hamza, sail with your ships along the sea-walls, have some of the ships lie to within shooting range, and order the archers and those who have crossbows in their hands, and muskets, to fire from the decks against the battlements so continuously that no one may lean out at all, nor have a chance to attack in the battle. And run some of the ships aground, if it seems advantageous, by the wall. Then have the men in charge bring out the ladders, and let the infantry try to scale the wall. So fight bravely and show yourself to be a hero.

207. “And you yourself, Zaganos, cross the bridge quickly and attack the Golden Horn wall very vigorously. Take with you the ships inside the harbor, which are assigned to you for this purpose, and be a hero!

208. “Now too you, Karaja, take your men and cross the moat and attack the ruined part of the wall just in front of you. Stoutly hurling back the defenders, try to scale the wall, struggling manfully, like a hero.

209. “And you also, Ishak and Mahmud, cross the moat safely with your own divisions and try to scale the wall with ladders. Have the archers and cannoneers and musketeers shoot incessantly at those on the battlements, so that they may be the least possible hindrance to your attack.

210. “Lastly you, Halil and Saraja, have your troops close ranks on both sides and fight. When you see me struggling and trying to climb up the ruined parts of the wall and forcing the Italians back and opening access for my men into the City, do your utmost on both sides to check those drawn up opposite you, attacking them strongly, so that being given no respite by you they may be less able to pay attention to us, and wholly unable to help those hard pressed by us.

211. “So much for the present. I myself will take care of all the rest. Therefore go back now to your tents and to your troops, and good luck to you! Eat, and drink, and rest.”

212. Having said this much, he dismissed the assembly. Each man went to his own troops and tents, and the Sultan himself, after his evening meal, went to rest.

213. Rising at dawn, he first called the gunners and ordered them to make the guns ready and aim them at the wrecked parts of the wall, so that when the time came they might fire on the defenders there.

214. Afterward he summoned the cavalry and infantry of his guard – I mean the heavy infantry and shield-bearers and archers and all the royal guard – and grouped them effectively by bands, masses, groups, and companies, by thousands and sometimes in larger numbers. He ordered them to fight in shifts, when their turns came. Some were to fight and do battle while others took food and sleep and rested so that they might be refreshed and renewed for the struggle. Then those should replace the others, and that thus, with one division constantly succeeding another and with periods of rest, the battle should go on incessantly and continuously, so as to allow their opponents no respite or relaxation in the fight. He also appointed a place for each, and a time and a regular order, and commanded them how and where and when to make their best effort.

215. Then the Sultan mounted his horse and went around to all the other divisions, reviewing them and giving his orders to all in general and each in particular. He encouraged them and stirred them up for the battle, especially the officers of the troops, calling each one by name. Then, having passed along the entire army, along the wall from sea to sea, and having given the necessary orders and encouraged and incited all for the fight, and having urged them to play the man, he ordered them to have their food and rest until the battle-cry should be given and they should see the signal. And after doing all this, he went back to his tent, had his meal, and rested.

216. Now the Romans, seeing the army so quiet and more tranquil than usual, marveled at the fact and ventured on various explanations and guesses. Some-not judging it aright – thought this was a preparation for withdrawal. Others – and this proved correct – believed that it was a preparation for battle and an alert, things which they had been expecting in the near future. So they passed the word along and then went in silence to their own divisions and made all sorts of preparations.

217. The hour was already advanced, the day was declining and near evening, and the sun was at the Ottomans’ backs but shining in the faces of their enemies. This was just as the Sultan had wished; accordingly he gave the order first for the trumpets to sound the battle-signal, and the their instruments, the pipes and flutes and cymbals too, as loud as they could. All the trumpets of the other divisions, with the other instruments in turn, sounded all together, a great and fearsome sound. Everything shook and quivered at the noise. After that, the standards were displayed.

218. To begin, the archers and slingers and those in charge of the cannon and the muskets, in accord with the commands given them, advanced against the wall slowly and gradually. When they got within bowshot, they halted to fight. And first they exchanged fire with the heavier weapons, with arrows from the archers, stones from the slingers, and iron and leaden balls from the cannon and muskets. Then, as they closed with battleaxes and javelins and spears, hurling them at each other and being hurled at pitilessly in rage and fierce anger. On both sides there was loud shouting and blasphemy and cursing. Many on each side were wounded, and not a few died. This kept up till sunset, a space of about two or three hours.

219. Then, with fine insight, the Sultan summoned the shield-bearers, heavy infantry and other troops and said: “Go to it, friends and children mine! It is time now to show yourselves good fighters!” They immediately crossed the moat, with shouts and fearful yells, and attacked the outer wall. All of it, however, had been demolished by the cannon. There were only, stockades of great beams instead of a wall, and bundles of vine-branches, and jars full of earth. At that point a fierce battle ensued close in and with the weapons of hand-to-hand fighting. The heavy infantry and shield-bearers fought to overcome the defenders and get over the stockade, while the Romans and Italians tried to fight these off and to guard the stockade. At times the infantry did get over the wall and the stockade, pressing forward bravely and unhesitatingly. And at times they were stoutly forced back and driven off.

220. The Sultan followed them up, as they struggled bravely, and encouraged them. He ordered those in charge of the cannon to put the match to the cannon. And these, being set off, fired their stone balls against the defenders and worked no little destruction on both sides, among those in the near vicinity.

221. So, then, the two sides struggled and fought bravely and vigorously. Most of the night passed, and the Romans were successful and prevailed not a little. Also, Giustinianni and his men kept their positions stubbornly, and guarded the stockade and defended themselves bravely against the aggressors.

222. And the other generals and officers with their own troops, and particularly the admiral of the fleet, also attacked the wall by land and sea and fought vigorously. The archers shot arrows from their bows, others fired cannon, and others brought up ladders and bridges and wooden towers and all sorts of machines to the walls. Some of them tried to climb up the wall by main force, especially where Zaganos and Karaja were in command.

223. Zaganos had crossed the bridge in safety, and brought ladders and bridges up to the wall. He then tried to force the heavy infantry to climb up, leaving with him the archers and musketeers from the ships inside the harbor. These fired from the decks fiercely, attacking the left flank of those who were on the fortifications as the ships sailed by.

224. Karaja crossed the moat and bravely attacked, attempting to get through inside the demolished wall.

225. But the Romans on their part met them stubbornly and repulsed them brilliantly. They fought bravely and proved superior to the Ottomans in battle. Indeed they showed that they were heroes, for not a one of all the things that occurred could deter them: neither the hunger attacking them, nor sleeplessness, nor continuous and ceaseless fighting, nor wounds and slaughter, nor the death of relatives before their very eyes, nor any of the other fearful things could make them give in, or diminish their previous zeal and determination. They valiantly kept on resisting as before, through everything, until evil and pitiless fortune betrayed them.

226. Sultan Mehmed saw that the attacking divisions were very much worn out by the battle and had not made any progress worth mentioning, and that the Romans and Italians were not only fighting stoutly but were prevailing in the battle. He was very indignant at this, considering that it ought not to be endured any longer. Immediately he brought up the divisions which he had been reserving for later on, men who were extremely well armed, daring and brave, and far in advance of the rest in experience and valor. They were the elite of the army: heavy infantry, bowmen, and lancers, and his own bodyguard, and along with them those of the division called Yenitsari [Janissaries].

227. Calling to them and urging them to prove themselves now as heroes, he led the attack against the wall, himself at the head until they reached the moat. There he ordered the bowmen, slingers, and musketeers to stand at a distance and fire to the right, against the defenders on the palisade and on the battered wall. They were to keep up so heavy a fire that those defenders would be unable to fight, or to expose themselves because of the cloud of arrows and other projectiles falling like snowflakes.

228. To all the rest, the heavy infantry and the shield-bearers, the Sultan gave orders to cross the moat swiftly and attack the palisade. With a loud and terrifying war-cry and with fierce impetuosity and wrath, they advanced as if mad. Being young and strong and full of daring, and especially because they were fighting in the Sultan’s presence, their valor exceeded every expectation. They attacked the palisade and fought bravely without any hesitation. Needing no further orders, they knocked down the turrets which had been built out in front, broke the yardarms, scattered the materials that had been gathered, and forced the defenders back inside the palisade.

229. Giustinianni with his men, and the Romans in that section fought bravely with lances, axes, pikes, javelins, and other weapons of offense. It was a hand-to-hand encounter, and they stopped the attackers and prevented them from getting inside the palisade. There was much shouting on both sides – the mingled sounds of blasphemy, insults, threats, attackers, defenders, shooters, those shot at, killers and dying, of those who in anger and wrath did all sorts of terrible things. And it was a sight to see there: a hard fight going on hand-to-hand with great determination and for the greatest rewards, heroes fighting valiantly, the one party struggling with all their might to force back the defenders, get possession of the wall, enter the City, and fall upon the children and women and the treasures, the other party bravely agonizing to drive them off and guard their possessions, even if they were not to succeed in prevailing and in keeping them.

230. Instead. The hapless Romans were destined finally to be brought under the yoke of servitude an to suffer its horrors although they battled bravely, and though they lacked nothing of willingness and daring in the contest, Giustinianni received a mortal wound in the breast from an arrow fired by a crossbow. It passed clear through his breastplate, and he fell where he was and was carried to his tent in a hopeless condition. All who were with him were scattered, being upset by their loss. They abandoned the palisade and wall where they had been fighting, and thought of only one thing – how they could carry him on to the galleons and get away safe themselves.

231. But the Emperor Constantine besought them earnestly, and made promises to them if they would wait a little while, till the fighting should subside. They would not consent, however, but taking up their leader and all their armor, they boarded the galleons in haste and with all speed, giving no consideration to the other defenders.

232. The Emperor Constantine forbade the others to follow. Then, though he had no idea what to do next – for he had no other reserves to fill the places thus left vacant, the ranks of those who had so suddenly deserted, and meantime the battle raged fiercely and all had to see to their own ranks and places and fight there – still, with his remaining Romans and his bodyguard, which was so few as to be easily counted, he took his stand in front of the palisade and fought bravely.

233. Sultan Mehmed, who happened to be fighting quite near by, saw that the palisade and the other part of the wall that had been destroyed were now empty of men and deserted by the defenders. He noted that men were slipping away secretly and that those who remained were fighting feebly because they were so few. Realizing from this that the defenders had fled and that the wall was deserted, he shouted out: “Friends, we have the City! We have it! They are already fleeing from us! They can’t stand It any longer! The wall is bare of defenders! It needs just a little more effort and the City is taken! Don’t weaken, but on with the work with all your might, and be men and I am with you!”

Capture of the City

234. So saying, he led them himself. And they, with a shout on the run and with a fearsome yell, went on ahead of the Sultan, pressing on up to the palisade. After a long and bitter struggle they hurled back the Romans from there and climbed by force up the palisade. They dashed some of their foe down into the ditch between the great wall and the palisade, which was deep and hard to get out of, and they killed them there. The rest they drove back to the gate.

Death of Emperor Constantine

235. He had opened this gate in the great wall, so as to go easily over to the palisade. Now there was a great struggle there and great slaughter among those stationed there, for they were attacked by the heavy infantry and not a few others in irregular formation, who had been attracted from many points by the shouting. There the Emperor Constantine, with all who were with him, fell in gallant combat.

236. The heavy infantry were already streaming through the little gate into the City, and others had rushed in through the breach in the great wall. Then all the rest of the army, with a rush and a roar, poured in brilliantly and scattered all over the City. And the Sultan stood before the great wall, where the standard also was and the ensigns, and watched the proceedings. The day was already breaking.

Great Rush, and Many Killed

237. Then a great slaughter occurred of those who happened to be there: some of them were on the streets, for they had already left the houses and were running toward the tumult when they fell unexpectedly on the swords of the soldiers; others were in their own homes and fell victims to the violence’ of the Janissaries and other soldiers, without any rhyme or reason; others were resisting, relying on their own courage; still, others were fleeing to the churches and making supplication – men, women,. and children, everyone, for there was no quarter given.

238. The soldiers fell on them with anger and great wrath. For one thing, they were actuated by the hardships of the siege. For another, some foolish people had hurled taunts and curses at them from the battlements all through the siege. Now, in general they killed so as to frighten all the City, and to terrorize and enslave all by the slaughter.

Plunder of the City

239. When they had had enough of murder, and the City was reduced to slavery, some of the troops turned to the mansions of the mighty, by bands and companies and divisions, for plunder and spoil. Others went to the robbing of churches, and others dispersed to the simple homes of the common people, stealing, robbing, plundering, killing, insulting, taking and enslaving men, women, and children, old and young, priests, monks – in short, every age and class.

Here, too, a Sad Tragedy

240. There was a further sight, terrible and pitiful beyond all tragedies: young and chaste women of noble birth and well to do, accustomed to remain at home and who had hardly ever left their own premises, and handsome and lovely maidens of splendid and renowned families, till then unsullied by male eyes – some of these were dragged by force from their chambers and hauled off pitilessly and dishonorably.

241. Other women, sleeping in their beds, had to endure nightmares. Men with swords, their hands bloodstained with murder, breathing out rage, speaking out murder indiscriminate, flushed with all the worst things – this crowd, made up of men from every race and nation, brought together by chance, like wild and ferocious beasts, leaped into the houses, driving them out mercilessly, dragging, rending, forcing, hauling them disgracefully into the public highways, insulting them and doing every evil thing.

242. They say that many of the maidens, even at the mere unaccustomed sight and sound of these men, were terror-stricken and came near losing their very lives. And there were also honorable old men who were dragged by their white hair, and some of them beaten unmercifully. And well-born and beautiful young boys were carried off.

243. There were priests who were driven along, and consecrated virgins who were honorable and wholly unsullied, devoted to God alone and living for Him to whom they had consecrated themselves. Some of these were forced out of their cells and driven off, and others dragged out of the churches where they had taken refuge and driven off with insult and dishonor, their cheeks scratched, amid wailing and lamentation and bitter tears. Tender children were snatched pitilessly from their mothers, young brides separated ruthlessly from their newly-married husbands. And ten thousand other terrible deeds were done.

Plundering and Robbing of the Churches

244. And the desecrating and plundering and robbing of the churches – how can one describe it in words? Some things they threw in dishonor on the ground – icons and reliquaries and other objects from the churches. The crowd snatched some of these, and some were given over to the fire while others were torn to shreds and scattered at the crossroads. The last resting-places of the blessed men of old were opened, and their remains were taken out and disgracefully torn to pieces, even to shreds, and made the sport of the wind while others were thrown on the streets.

245. Chalices and goblets and vessels to hold the holy sacrifice, some of them were used for drinking and carousing, and others were broken up or melted down and sold. Holy vessels and costly robes richly embroidered with much gold or brilliant with precious stones and pearls were some of them given to the most wicked men for no good use, while others were consigned to the fire and melted down for the gold.

246. And holy and divine books, and others mainly of profane literature and philosophy, were either given to the flames or dishonorably trampled under foot. Many of them were sold for two or three pieces of money, and sometimes for pennies only, not for gain so much as in contempt. Holy altars were torn from their foundations and overthrown. The walls of sanctuaries and cloisters were explored, and the holy places of the shrines were dug into and overthrown in the search for gold. Many other such things they dared to do.

247. Those unfortunate Romans who had been assigned to other parts of the wall and were fighting there, on land and by the sea, supposed that the City was still safe and had not suffered reverses, and that their women and children were free – for they had no knowledge at all of what had happened. They kept on fighting lustily, powerfully resisting the attackers and brilliantly driving off those who were trying to scale the walls. But when they saw the enemy in their rear, attacking them from inside the City, and saw women and children being led away captives and shamefully treated, some were overwhelmed with hopelessness and threw themselves with their weapons over the wall and were killed, while others in utter despair dropped their weapons from hands already paralyzed, and surrendered to the enemy without a struggle, to be treated as the enemy chose.

Death of Orhan

248. Orhan, the uncle of the Sultan, of the Ottoman family, happened to be present there at the time and fighting on the wall with them [the Byzantines], for the Emperor Constantine had him in the City and was treating him with much respect and honor because of his hopes. Orhan had been a fugitive for a long time through fear of his brother who had tried to kill him. When he saw that the City was captured, he sought to save himself. At first he thought he would run away secretly, as if he were one of the army, because of his uniform and of his correct pronunciation [of Greek]. But as soon as he saw he was recognized and being pursued, he threw himself immediately from the wall and died. And the soldiers rushed up, cut off his head, and took it to the Sultan, for he had wished to see him quickly, dead or alive.

249. At this same time Hamza, Admiral of the fleet, when he saw the City already taken and the heavy infantry plundering it, quickly sailed up to the chain, cut it, and got inside the harbor. And of all the Roman ships which he found (for the Italian triremes and galleons had immediately put on all sail and made for the open sea), he sank some on the spot, and others he captured with all hands and ran them aground at what is called the Imperial Gate. When he found this still shut, he broke open the locks and bars and knocked down the gates.

250. Entering the City with his marines, he found there many of the Romans gathered and making a brave stand. The [Ottoman] land forces had not yet reached that point, as they were plundering the rest of the City. Encountering these, he overcame them and killed them all, so that much blood flowed out of the gates. At that juncture the land army also arrived.

251. In the same way, the sea army streamed in victoriously through the other shore gates, smashing them and throwing them down. Thus the whole naval force, scattering through the whole City, turned to plunder, robbing everything in their way, and falling on it like a fire or a whirlwind, burning and annihilating everything, or like a torrent sweeping away and destroying all things. For they hunted out everything, more carefully than Datis is said to have done in Eretria. Churches, holy places, old treasuries, tombs, underground galleries, cisterns and hiding-places, caves and crannies were burst into. And they searched every other hidden place, dragging out into the light anybody or anything they found hidden.

252. Going into the largest church, that of the Holy Wisdom [Sancta Sophia], they found there a great crowd of men, women, and children taking refuge and calling upon God. Those they caught as in a net, and took them all in a body and carried them captives, some to the galleys and some to the camp.

Surrender of Galata to the Sultan

253. Upon this, the men of Galata, seeing the City already captured and plundered, immediately surrendered en masse to the Sultan so as to suffer no ills. They opened their gates to admit Zaganos and his troops, and these did them no harm.

254. The entire army, the land force and the marine, poured into the City from daybreak and even from early dawn until the evening. They robbed and plundered it, carrying all the booty into the camp and into the ships. But some, like thieves, stole some of the booty and secretly went out of the gates and off to their abodes. Thus the whole City was emptied and deserted, despoiled and blackened as if by fire. One might easily disbelieve that it had ever had in it a human dwelling or the wealth or properties of a city or any furnishing or ornament of a household. And this was true although the City had been so magnificent and grand. There were left only ruined homes, so badly ruined as to cause great fear to all who saw them.

Number of Romans who died in the struggle, and of the prisoners taken

255. There died, of Romans and of foreigners, as was reported, in all the fighting and in the capture itself, all told, men, women, and children, well-nigh four thousand, and a little more than fifty thousand were taken prisoners, including about five hundred from the whole army.

Entry of the Sultan into the City, and his seeing of it all, and his grief

256. After this the Sultan entered the City and looked about to see its great size, its situation, its grandeur and beauty, its teeming population, its loveliness, and the costliness of its churches and public buildings and of the private houses and community houses and of those of the officials. He also saw the setting of the harbor and of the arsenals, and how skillfully and ingeniously they had everything arranged in the City – in a word, all the construction and adornment of it. When he saw what a large number had been killed, and the ruin of the buildings, and the wholesale ruin and destruction of the City, he was filled with compassion and repented not a little at the destruction and plundering. Tears fell from his eyes as he groaned deeply and passionately: “What a city we have given over to plunder and destruction!”


257. Thus he suffered in spirit. And indeed this was a great blow to us, in this one city, a disaster the like of which had occurred in no one of the great renowned cities of history, whether one speaks of the size of the captured City or of the bitterness and harshness of the deed. And no less did it astound all others than it did those who went through it and suffered, through the unreasonable and unusual character of the event and through the overwhelming and unheard-of horror of it.

This translation is from History of Mehmed the Conqueror by Kritovoulos, trans. Charles T. Riggs (Princeton University Press, 1954). We thank Princeton University Press for their permission to republish this material.

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