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The Fall of Constantinople:

Economic Diplomacy at the Gates of the Eye of The World

HIST-263 Research Paper

Mehmed II, son of the Sultan Murad II of the Ottoman Empire, changed the
world. This statement may seem a grandiloquent presumption; however, the
reign of Mehmed II, revered by the Turkish Ottoman Empire as Mehmed the
Conqueror, earned this title for the achievements he brought the Ottoman
Empire. Most prominent of his successes was the besieging of Constantinople.
Constantinople stood as the last piece of the Byzantine Empire, ruled by
Constantine XI, and had been invaded only once (during the 4th crusade) in
more than a millennium (for nearly 1100 years it stood under a single Empire's
sovereignty only briefly losing its rule). Not only did Mehmed II, at age 21,
besiege this fortress, but by doing so he extinguished the last remaining
Christian presence this far East, effectually making Islam the predominant
religious influence in Asia and as far West as Mehmed II conquered during his
reign as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
The fall of the Byzantine Empire, for the Ottomans, opened the doors to
European opportunity and adversely, for the rest of Europe many doors closed
especially on their economy, as Constantinople was Europes means into the
Eastern trade. With the loss of the city to Mehmed II, land and sea trade routes
to Asia were lost.1 The new rule of Constantinople by the Ottomans served as a
chance for the Turks to impress their legitimacy as an Empire upon the rest of
Western Europe by curtailing all of European trade with the East. The Ottomans
benefitted greatly from their control of both land and sea passages to the Asian
trade routes. Ottoman hands were in everyones economic affairs, as they

Hollings, Mary Albright. Europe in Renaissance and Reformation, 14531659. London: Methuen &, 1909. iv.
1

essentially controlled the market prices and held the freedom to impose taxes
on those wishing to trade through their newly acquired city. 2 On the other hand,
Western European Monarchies struggled economically and the threatening
Ottoman force caused the different monarchies to realize their susceptibility to
invasion. Being a subject to not only an invasive and encroaching Empire whose
religious beliefs were incomparable to their own but also subject to the
enforcement of canonical doctrine, leaves little doubt that a 15 th Century
Christian in Europe would have thoughts of skepticism. Eastern ideas spreading
through Europe provoking such thoughts of uncertainty pertaining to the
ecclesiastical creed, its power and its role in political spheres would play an
important part in the development of Europe during the following centuries. The
loss of Constantinople and the Christian Byzantine Empire was a significant blow
to Christianitys image of power both politically and as a religious institution.
The Fall of Constantinople unveiled repercussions upon Europe and its sovereign
components through a large-scale economic collapse rendering Western Europe
devoid of any significant trade avenues due to the imperious occupants control
and regulation of both land and sea trade routes to the East. The abolition of
Europes eastern trade initiated a European response to transcend their
economic suppression by looking to the Western seas for a passage to Asia
allowing for economic opportunity; thus, had the Ottoman Empire not besieged
Constantinople and set forth its diplomatic condition for economic attrition the
Age of Exploration would not have occurred as soon as it did.

Hollings, Mary Albright. Europe in Renaissance and Reformation, 14531659. London: Methuen &, 1909. ix.
2

The Byzantine Empire prior to 1453, in no way, was a thriving economic


center as its advantageous location may have suggested. Constantinople had
seen its ebb and flow of prosperity over the many centuries leading back to its
original erection. During the mid-15th century, Byzantium was diminishing to a
likely inevitable demise. Upon the Ottomans assuming control of the city, the
economy began to bolster trade within the territories surrounding the city. This
revival of a productive economic market put power in Ottoman hands.
Part of the reason for the successful economic revival was due to the
migration of Ottoman slaves from all over the Empire to Constantinople to
rebuild not only the walls and infrastructure of the newly declared Ottoman
capital but the populace as well. In the quotation, Alas! each day Christians are
lost and the Devils followers grow in number and strength of arms. For in
Turkey and in Greece there is scarcely a city, fort, or village in whichand
scarcely a day on which the most holy name of Christ is denied and
Muhammad, the son of the devil, exalted. And this happens not only because of
fear and threats but also because of delights and honor. -12 December 1438
the nature by which the population of Constantinople was growing gains clarity
upon analyzing the mentioning of Christians lost to the Muslim influence. 3
Mehmed II initially struggled to establish a strong population base in the new
capital; Mehmed II offered incentives to any who relocated but the results were
insufficient and he instead turned to filling the city with his enslaved. Those

De Giano, Bartolomeo. "Bartolomeo De Giano On the Cruelty of the Turks."


Letter to Friar Abbot of Santiano. 1438. Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 1. Venice: JP
Migne, 1955. 158.
3

enslaved consisted of a vast number of Christians obtained through either


purchase or from the spoils of conquest received from the cities surrounding
Constantinople.4 A Muslim scholar, Mehmet ems el-Mille ved-Din, provides
another account of what comprised the large Turkish army in a letter to Mehmed
II stating, As you well know, the majority of our forces are, in any case, forced
converts, and therefore the number of those who are ready to sacrifice their
lives for the love of God is extremely low..5 This resulted in a great mixture of
cultures for which the Ottomans established a secularized city that allowed for
many of the freedoms Europeans were very unaccustomed. Even non-captured
Christians were migrating to the Ottoman capital and converting to the Muslim
religion so that they might attain wealth, as suggested in the accounts of 15 th
century manuscripts.
There was the allowance for the slave communities of separate cultures
within this great city to worship their own god. This Millet System served as a
unique practice of separate self-governed communities; usually the governing
body was autonomous according to religious sects.6 Effectually, the Millet
System helped the Ottoman leaders manage their people in a purposeful way to

Barbaro, Nicolo. Diary of the Siege of Constantinople 1453. trans. John


Melville-Jones. New York:, 1969, 1-27
4

Aq ems ed-Dn, Mehmet. La Caduta di Constantinopoli I. Letter of Sheik


Aq ems ed-Dn to Mehmet II. 1452, trans. W. L. North. Milan: Mondadori,
1976. 301-303.
5

Hollings, Mary Albright. Europe in Renaissance and Reformation, 14531659. London: Methuen &, 1909.
6

maintain a perceivably just view of rule. The result was a growth in population
and respectively an increased need for trade, but perhaps more significantly, the
Turks were succeeding in exposing Europeans to Eastern ideology. Mehmed IIs
success in spreading the Eastern culture was that Western exposure would have
like effects on the rest of Europe; furthermore, the religiously driven warfare
would continue and no Christian union would contest his Westward expanse.
The rest of Europe to the West experienced devastating effects from the
siege. Those negatively affected by the Ottoman rule and economic
establishment saw the Black Sea trade overrun by Ottoman monopoly. 7
Eventually the Ottomans were among the only traders on the Black Sea and the
Mediterranean. The Turks were quickly shaping themselves into a European
power. This likely aroused greater determination in the other contending powers
to establish an advantage of their own. The economic situation created by the
siege of Constantinople and the power the Ottomans acquired put pressure on
Europe, and it was not long before they turned their back on the East and looked
towards the Western horizon.
The vulnerable state the European countries found themselves in resulted
from the economic impacts of losing Constantinople. In this passage from a
letter written by Friar Bartholomeus de Giano to a Venetian friar, And if they
take this cityGod forbid!!woe! woe! for the rest of the Christians whom he
shall easily conquer later both by land and by sea. For at present he can only
extend one of his hands to do harm. the panic is unmistakable even though it is

Hollings, Mary Albright. Europe in Renaissance and Reformation, 14531659. London: Methuen &, 1909. ix.
7

nearly five years premature of the day Constantinople falls. 8 Whether the
inherent significance Constantinople served for the well-being of Europe and its
economy received recognition before the citys siege or if considered only in
retrospect, the importance of Constantinople is undeniable. The quotation
suggests an acknowledgment of the damages to European balance of power
that the loss of Constantinople might cause by explicitly stating the fear of
Ottomans conquering Christians by both land and sea. It seems apparent there
was recognition of the importance of Constantinople but perhaps this realization
came too late. Europe watched the barrier dividing East and West fall. As
previously discussed, the Ottomans established a presence in European affairs
and the Western monarchies had little choice but to act accordingly with the
provisions put forth by the Turks. Of course, Europeans, who had spent
centuries at war with each other to obtain this feat of European supremacy the
Ottomans were forming, were not going to let this stand willingly. There was
some conviction roused by several different means for a new crusade but the
state of Europe during the years leading up to 1453 was war-scarred and
surfacing opinions regarding the papacy helped little to motivate a crusade. 9
Demoralized by economic conditions, skepticism towards Christianity due to the

De Giano, Bartolomeo. "Bartolomeo De Giano On the Cruelty of the Turks."


Letter to Friar Abbot of Santiano. 1438. Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 1. Venice: JP
Migne, 1955. 158.
8

Hollings, Mary Albright. Europe in Renaissance and Reformation, 14531659. London: Methuen &, 1909. 8.
9

loss of Christendoms stronghold and seeing Christians convert to Muslims gave


the European powers yet another reason to turn to the Western Seas.
An underlying theme is ubiquitous upon considering the actions displayed
by the Ottomans, European economy and the Catholic Church that emanated an
Age of Exploration. The Ottomans earned a place amongst the European powers
and their contention in becoming the paramount Empire in Europe when they
sacked Constantinople in 1453. This devastating loss upon Christendom opened
the gate for Eastern influence to spread freely throughout Western Europe. 10
Establishing Constantinople as the new Ottoman capital city and revitalizing its
potential in economic and geographic advantages shift the balance of European
power towards the Turks. Having control of both land and sea routes connecting
to Asia gave the Ottomans the ability to prosper and manipulate the economy of
the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, the Eastern influence had caused Europeans to
begin doubting Christian dogma and the popes legitimacy. The skepticism lead
to more religious controversy as well as the conversion of many Christians to
Muslim. The influence that caused the declining Christian faith came into
Europe by the Turks sacking of the Christian fortress that controlled the partition
between East and West. The condition of Byzantium left no chance of
successfully warding off the invading Turks without help from its Christian
counterparts, but they never came. If the Eastern and Western sects of
Christianity unified to defend against Mehmed II Christendom would not have

De Giano, Bartolomeo. "Bartolomeo De Giano On the Cruelty of the Turks."


Letter to Friar Abbot of Santiano. 1438. Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 1. Venice: JP
Migne, 1955. 158.
10

lost its shield from Eastern influence.11 With some help in rebuilding, the
Byzantine Constantinoples economy may have preserved routes to Asian trade
for all of Europe. There would have been no reason for the Europeans to embark
upon an Age of Exploration at that time because there would have been no
economic attrition and no Eastern influence in Europe. Not to say exploration
and Eastern ways would not have become a European interest later in time, as it
inevitably would, but without the impacts the Ottomans had on Europe the
desire to seek alternative trade routes or to fund this desire would not have
existed. Although the Age of Exploration was generally a positive, as too was
the Renaissance, failure to act according to the whole of Europes interests
resulted in a near devastation that may have made the Age of Exploration and
Renaissance a topic of Ottoman history.

Bibliography

Aq ems ed-Dn, Mehmet. La Caduta di Constantinopoli I. Letter of Sheik


Aq ems ed-Dn to Mehmet II. 1452, trans. W. L. North. Milan: Mondadori,
1976. 301-303.

Pears, Edwin. The Fall of Constantinople: Being the Story of the Fourth
Crusade. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1886.
11

Barbaro, Nicolo. Diary of the Siege of Constantinople 1453. trans. John


Melville-Jones. New York:, 1969, 1-27
De Giano, Bartolomeo. "Bartolomeo De Giano On the Cruelty of the Turks."
Letter to Friar Abbot of Santiano. 1438. Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 1. Venice:
JP Migne, 1955. 158.
Hollings, Mary Albright. Europe in Renaissance and Reformation, 1453-1659.
London: Methuen &, 1909.
Pears, Edwin. The Fall of Constantinople: Being the Story of the Fourth
Crusade. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1886.
Pears, Edwin. "The Ottoman Turks to the Fall of Constantinople [1453]." In
The Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1923. 653-675.