At the moment of the Emperor's death in October 1448 Constantine was in the Morea. It was there that he had shown the qualities that made him best fitted to take over the administration and defence of Constantinople and its suburbs, for such was now the extent of the Byzantine Empire. Constantine liked to be known by his mother's surname of Dragas or Dragases, which she inherited from her Serbian father. She lived on as a widow and a nun until March 1450; and it was her firmness that assured Constantine's succession to the throne. For early in November his brother Demetrios had hurried to the capital from Selymbria to stake his claim; and his other brother Thomas was on his way there from the Morea. Demetrios was, or represented himself to be, the champion of the anti-unionist party; and he assumed charge of the city's defence. But Helena, the mother of them all, overruled him and asserted her right to act as regent until the eldest of her surviving sons arrived from Greece. In December she sent George Sphrantzes to the Sultan Murad to seek his approval and recognition of Constantine as the new Emperor. A few days later she commissioned two of her leading courtiers to go to Mistra to confirm the fact of his succession. On 6 January 1449 they proclaimed and invested Constantine as Emperor. It was unusual but not unprecedented for an emperor to be proclaimed in a provincial city. The founder of the dynasty of Palaiologos, Michael VIII, had been proclaimed and then crowned at Nicaea; John VI Cantacuzene had been crowned at Adrianople, although in both cases it had been thought desirable to repeat the ceremony in Constantinople. In the case of Constantine, however, there was no coronation either at Mistra or in the capital. To be crowned by a Patriarch who professed union with the Roman Church would have inflamed the already existing religious discord. Constantine was wise not to press the point and to be known by some as 'the uncrowned emperor'. The times were too hectic and too short. He reigned for only four years and nearly five months. He was the last Byzantine Emperor.
Constantine entered Constantinople on I2 March 1449. Almost at once he sent an ambassador to Murad to pay his compliments and to ask for a treaty of peace. The Sultan might have preferred to see Demetrios Palaiologos on the throne, for he distrusted the union of the Greeks with the Latins which Constantine supported and which Demetrios renounced. But he did not hesitate to acknowledge the prior claim by heredity of the Emperor Constantine. The Emperor's brothers were invested with the government of the Despotate of the Morea. After long deliberations it was decided that the province should be partitioned between them. Thomas was to have the north-western section with Achaia and the towns of Patras and Clarentza; Demetrios was to govern the rest from Mistra. They swore solemn oaths in the presence of their mother Helena and their brother the Emperor that they would respect each other's boundaries, and they left for Greece in the summer of 1449. The arrangement resolved a constitutional crisis and perhaps averted a dynastic war in Byzantium, but only at the expense of its last remaining province. For the two Despots began to quarrel within a matter of months; each in his turn called on the Turks for help, and both fell foul of Venice. Constantine intervened to patch up their differences for a time at the end of 1450. But he must have been disheartened to see the resources of the Morea, which he had done so much to preserve, being dissipated in fratricidal war.
Constantinople too was a divided city. The Union of Florence, which Constantine was determined to uphold as the last frail link with the world from which help might come, was increasingly unpopular. No one had yet dared to celebrate it in St. Sophia. Men of the world, however, realized that the moment was too critical for such luxuries as religious or even political differences. The civil servants and officers who served the Emperor Constantine did so with a loyalty that rose above their divergent allegiances in other matters. Two of them were members of the Cantacuzene family: Andronikos, the Grand Domestic, who was a brother-in-law of George Brankovic, and John, who had been the Emperor's hithful servant and friend in the Morea and moved with him to Constantinople in 1449. Both were noted unionists. John's son, Constantine Cantacuzene, who carried on his father's career in Greece, even earned the title of a Count Palatine of the Lateran from the Pope. The Emperor's first ministers were another member of the same family, Demetrios Cantacuzene, and Loukas Notaras, who held the title, for by the fifteenth century it was little more than a title, of Grand Duke or High Admiral. Of these the latter at least opposed the idea of union with the Roman Church; but he was prepared to put up with the practice of it for appearance's sake and for fear that the Latins would totally abandon Constantinople to its fate. George Scholarios, on the other hand, who for all his change of heart on the subject had continued to serve John VIII as secretary and judge, saw no future in serving Constantine. He retired to a monastery and in 1450 became a monk with the name of Gennadios.
But among the bishops, priests and monks, and among the ordinary people of the city, ambiguous attitudes were not possible. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory III called Mammes, did his best to pour oil on the troubled waters. But the leading anti-unionist clergy refused to pray for their emperor in their churches. The Emperor tried to bring them to be more reasonable. But Scholarios and John Eugenikos, the brother of the late Mark of Ephesos, poured out literature in defence of the traditional Orthodox position and continually decried the folly of those in authority who put their hope of salvation not in God but in human and lien hands. The tension in ecclesiastical circles was so intolerable that the Patriarch Gregory abandoned his charge in disgust or despair and went to Rome in August 1451. For the last two years of its independent existence the See of Constantinople was widowed. There was a Church but no Patriarch. There was an Emperor but no Empire. The Pope, Nicholas V, was distressed by the reports from Constantinople and urged Constantine to take repressive measures against the opponents of union. He must be made to understand that there was a limit to prevarication. There were already Catholics in Rome protesting that the Greeks had been given rope enough with which to hang themselves and suggesting that Constantinople could look after its own problems. The Pope insisted that the Patriarch Gregory must be reinstated and that the Union of Florence must be proclaimed and celebrated in the cathedral of St Sophia. In May 1452 Cardinal Isidore of Kiev was appointed apostolic legate to see that this was done.
It was almost too late for such celebrations. In February 1451 the Sultan Murad II died at Adrianople. He had in fact resigned in favour of his son Mehmed six years before; but he had been forced to come out of his retirement to take vengeance on the Hungarians and the Greeks. Mehmed II, known to history as Fatih or the Conqueror, was 19 years old in 1451. He had spent his childhood in obscurity in Adrianople until, by the death or murder of his two brothers, he had become heir to the Sultanate at the age of 12. His father then saw to it that he had the education and upbringing fitting to his destiny. Naturally intelligent and perceptive, gifted with impulsive energy and an aptitude for learning, Mehmed quickly and eagerly absorbed what his masters had to teach him of philosophy, science and languages, and what his father taught him of administration and of war. Now that the storm of the last crusade was over in Europe, and with the peace that his father had established in Asia, Mehmed II could expect to inherit a well-ordered and flourishing Ottoman Empire, complete but for the city of Constantinople. That inheritance was his in February 1451 when Murad died; and from that very moment Mehmed planned the conquest of Constantinople as his main objective and his overriding obsession. The Byzantines were slow to recognize that so young and inexperienced a ruler presented them with a danger more formidable than any Sultan since the great Bayezid. For to begin with Mehmed seemed ready to be their friend, even to the point of making certain guarantees and small concessions. Among other things, he allowed his stepmother Mara Brankovic to return in safety to her home in Serbia.
If the Byzantine Empire were ever to have a future there must be an heir to the throne. Constantine's advisers therefore urged him to find a wife before it was too late. He had been married twice already. His hrst wife, a niece of Carlo Tocco, had died in 1429. His second wife, daughter of Dorino Gattilusio of Lesbos, had died in 1442. Neither had borne him any children. It was thought that his third marriage, if it came about, should be arranged with an eye to business. A lady must be found who would bring a substantial dowry to her impoverished husband and also the benefit of a political and military alliance. The matter provoked much diplomatic activity. Imperial ambassadors were sent to look for an empress in places as hr apart as Italy and Georgia. At Naples they inquired about the daulghter of the King of Portugal, who was a nephew of Alfonso of Aragon. In Taranto the name of a lady of the Orsini family was mentioned. But the Emperor's closest friends felt strongly that he would do better to marry into some family nearer home. George Sphrantzes was entrusted with the delicate task of visiting the courts of Georgia and of Trebizond to find a suitable bride. The King of Gerogia, George VIII, quickly put himself out of the running by proposing that the hand of his daughter should be worth a large sum of money. The Emperor John IV of Trebizond, however, had more conventional ideas about arranging a dowry which might go with the hand of one of his daughters.
It was while he was in those parts that Sphrantzes heard of the death of Murad and the accession of the Sultan Mehmed II. In his own account of his diplomatic missions he tells how the Emperor of Trebizond greeted him with the good news of the old Sultan's death in I451, and of how he warned the Emperor not to be over optimistic. The new Sultan, he said, was young and dedicated to the destruction of Christians; the news of his death would indeed be an occasion for rejoicing since he was the only surviving son of his father, and if he died there would be discord among the Turks. The Emperor of Trebizond was deeply impressed by the Byzantine ambassador's cautious and statesmanlike appraisal of the situation.
But word must very soon have reached Trebizond that the widow of the late Murad, Mara Brankovic, had been allowed to go home to her father in Serbia; for she was a niece of the Emperor John IV. The idea at once occurred to George Sphrantzes that she of all people was best fitted to become the bride and Empress of his master Constantine. Diplomatically this may have been so. Mara Brankovic was closely related to the courts of Serbia and Trebizond, she was rich, she was a Byzantine princess and an Ottoman Sultana in her own right, and as the respecud stepmother of the new Sultan she might have been a great influence for peace. But she was already about 50 years old and unlikely to be able to produce an heir to the throne. Constantine, however, was quite taken with the idea when Sphrantzes put it to him. Mara's father, George Brankovic, was also naturally in favour of it. The Emperor's advisers were divided in their opinions. But the lady herself would have none of it. She soon let it be known that she had taken a vow that, if she were ever released from her marriage to the infidel Sultan, she would live out the rest of her days in chastity and devotion to charitable works. Nor would she alter her resolution, not even for the Emperor of the Romans. The Emperor therefore instructed his ambassador to pursue negotiations with the King of Georgia. They were long drawn out, and by the time that a marriage contract had been drafted it was too late. The last Byzantine Emperor was fated to die without a wife and without an heir.
The Byzantines were not alone in underestimating the strength of the new Sultan. People in the western world comforted themselves and salved their consciences with regard to the Christian east by the thought that not much harm could come while the Ottoman Empire was in the hands of one so young. The illusion was fostered by the known facts that Mehmed II had made treaties with John Hunyadi of Hungary and with George Brankovic of Serbia, and that he had expressed his goodwill to the prince of Wallachia, to the Knights of Rhodes, and to the Genoese lords of Chios and Lesbos. But the illusion was shared also by the Karamans, the inveterate enemies of the Ottomans in Asia. In the autumn of 1451, while the young Sultan was still in Europe, the Karamans organized a rebellion aimed at reconstituting the local principalities which had formerly existed under the emirs of Aydin, Menteshe and elsewhere. They soon discovered their mistake. The revolt was crushed just as soon as Mehmed arrived on the scene. It was now the turn of the Byzantines to be shown that they too were mistaken.
The Emperor Constantine had thought to take advantage of the Sultan's embarrassments in Asia by making certain representations. The only known member of the ruling Ottoman house apart from Mehmed was a grandson of the late Sultan Suleiman called Orhan who lived in exile at Constantinople. Mehmed had agreed to continue paying an annuity for his maintenance. The Emperor now sent a formal complaint to the Sultan's vizir at Brusa that the annuity was not sufficient; and he suggested that in the person of Orhan the Byzantines had a pretender to the Ottoman Sultanate whom they might feel obliged to let loose. The game had been played before. It was in the best traditions of Byzantine diplomacy. Constantine's father Manuel II had played it with varying success in the years after 1402. But it was risky, and in any case the obscure Orhan could have been no match as a rival to Mehmed II. Mehmed's vizir, Halil Pasha, was appalled by the ineptitude of Constantine's threats and suggestions. He lost his temper with those who had brought the message.
"You stupid Greeks, I have known your cunning ways for long enough. The late Sultan was a lenient and conscientious friend to you. The present Sultan Mehmed is not of the same mind. If Constantinople eludes his bold and impetuous grasp, it will only be because God continues to overlook your devious and wicked schemes. You are fools to think that you can frighten us with your fantasies and that when the ink on our recent treaty of peace is barely dry. We are not children without strength or sense. If you think that you can start something, do so. If you want to proclaim Orhan as Sultan in Thrace, go ahead. If you want to bring the Hungarians across the Danube, let them come. If you want to recover places that you lost long since, try it. But know this: you will make no headway in any of these things. All thar you will do is lose what little you still have."
The Sultan's own reply to the proposals was more terse. He promised simply to examine them and to act upon them with justice and honour as soon as he returned to Adrianople. This he did with the minimum of delay. He made a truce with the emir of the Karamans and crossed the Bosporos in the winter of 1451. The small concessions that he had made to the Byzantines earlier in the year were now revoked and in defiance of his treaty with them, which in his view they had already broken, he gave orders for the encirclement of Constantinople to begin. The first step was the construction of a fortress on the European shore of the Bosporos over against that which Mehmed's grandfather Bayezid had built. Workmen and masons were assembled for the task. When the Emperor saw what was happening he sent messengers to protest. He even arrested all the Turkish residents in the city. The Sultan took no notice. The work on the castle began in April 1452. The Turks called it Boghazkesen, the cutter of the channel. It came to be known as Rumeli Hisar, the European fortress, in contrast to the Asiatic fortress of Anadolu Hisar. It took four months to complete; and the Byzantines watching the work from their walls now felt that all the prophecies about the end of their world and the coming of the antichrist were about to be fulfilled.
Constantine had sorely misjudged his enemy. The only practical measure that he could take was to lay in all the provisions he could find and to see to the repair of the city walls. He was old enough to remember the siege of Constantinople in 1422 and knew what to expect. He made sure that the fields in the neighbourhood were harvested well in advance, and he bought or begged all the supplies that could be shipped from the islands and from Venice, Genoa and Naples. In particular he tried to keep the Venetians informed of the state of affairs, alerting them to the fact that Constantinople was about to be cut off by sea as well as by land and that there were now no doubts about the Sultan's intentions. The Venetians seemed to have lost interest in Constantinople. They still had their commercial quarter in the city, and its privileges had been renewed by the Emperor in 1450. But they had made their own very promising arrangements with the Turks. The Emperor was aware that their merchants were doing a brisk trade in the markets of Adrianople and that their Doge was on excellent terms with the Sultan. In September 1451 he had signed a treaty with Mehmed II reaffirming thatwhich had been made with Murad in 1446. The Venetians were not going to risk interfering with the Sultan's plans in the Bosporos.
There was a remote chance that the news of an impending siege of Constantinople might awaken some reaction in other quarters of the west. The Emperor made desperate appeals to Ragusa, offering their merchants special privileges in Constantinople, to the cities of Italy, and to the Pope. He was lavish in his promises of reward for anyone who would bring help. To John Hunyadi he promised the city of Mesembria; to King Alfonso of Aragon he offered the island of Lemnos. But in vain. The Genoese, whose colony of Galata was in the thick of it, behaved with the same cautious ambiguity as the Venetians. The governors of Galata and of Chios received orders to act on their own initiative but not to become unnecessarily involved in warfare with the Turks. Constantinople might well fall to the Sultan Mehmed, but that did not mean that the opportunities for trade in the Black Sea ports and the islands would cease. They might indeed improve.
The castle of Rumeli Hisar was finished in August 1452. In October Cardinal Isidore, who had been appointed papal legate, arrived in Constantinople. He brought with him a company of 200 archers from Naples, and he was accompanied by Leonardo of Chios, Genoese Archbishop of Lesbos. Two hundred men would not go far against the might of Mehmed II. But they were better than nothing; and Isidore was warmly welcomed by the Emperor. His mission, however, was not military but religious. He had come to save the souls of the Byzantines by proclaiming the union of the Churches in their midst. How such a proclamation was supposed to affect the material circumstances does not seem to have been seriously considered. rhe Union of Florence had so far brought the Byzantines little comfort. Those who favoured it may have felt that to have it celebrated in their own cathedral would set the seal on their spiritual affinity with their Catholic brethren in the west. But it was not likely now to stir those brethren into a frenzy of last-minute action. Those who opposed the Union deplored its celebration in their most holy church as the ultimate affront to their faith and their traditions. Scholarios, now the monk Gennadios, was passionate in his denunciations. He harangued the people on the betrayal of their faith. He nailed a declaration on the door of his cell, bearing witness before God that he would sooner die than forswear the Orthodoxy that was his heritage. The Union was an evil thing. It portended the ruin of those who had turned their backs on God.
The Grand Duke Loukas Notaras tried to keep tempers cool. But the words of Gennadios struck an answering chord in the minds of the people. Isidore was sympathetic but firm. He had experienced the full blasts of anti- unionist emotion in Russia. In the absence of a patriarch it fell to the Emperor to summon the dissenting clergy and listen to their objections. There was a meeting in the palace on 15 November 1452, at which the anti-unionists signed a document of protest. But the sound of Turkish guns hring in the Bosporos beyond the city walls was more effective than the tirades of Gennadios. At the end of November he retired from the fray and pledged himself to desist from embarrassing his emperor any further. Finally, on 12 December, a concelebration of the Catholic and Orthodox liturgy took place in St Sophia. The Emperor and his court were present. The names of Pope Nicholas V and of the absent Patriarch Gregory III were commemorated. The decrees of Union as recited at Florence were read out. The heavens may have rejoiced, as they are said to have done at Florence. But the ceremony brought little joy to the people of Byzantium. It seemed that in the end, when their backs were to the wall, they had allowed the Latins to win the last round in the battle of wits that had begun with the Fourth Crusade.
At the moment when the final siege of Constantinople was about to begin there must surely have been those who thought that it would be better to surrender than to resist. It was common knowledge, and common experience from the fate of other Byzantine cities, that resistance, if unsuccessful, brought a terrible retribution from the Turks. There were certainly those who felt and perhaps said that they would prefer to see the Sultan's turban in their city than the Latin mitre. The remark was attributed to Loukas Notaras; and although it seems to be out of character, he may well have been goaded into uttering it by the insensitivity of some of the unionists. But surrender was not much spoken of. Constantinople was unique. It was the nerve centre of a whole way of life. Even in its surrounding provinces that were now irretrievably under Turkish domination the currents of.thought and faith that had emanated from it over the centuries were still flowing. Omens and prophecies about the ultimate fate of the city had been heard for many years. The Byzantines were given to bouts of fatalistic gloom and pessimism. It was widely believed that the end would come in the 7000th year from the Creation, in 1492, which meant that there were still forty years to run. When the moment came, however, as it seemed to come in the long winter of 1452, there were few who felt that their Queen of Cities was not worth defending. To rate their motives at the meanest level one may suppose that the business of preparing the defences afforded some relief from the suspense and anxiety of waiting for the Turks to break in. But heroes moved by higher impulses and ideals were not lacking when the storm broke.
The noblest of them was the Emperor himself. Throughout that winter he exhorted his people, men and women alike, to help in repairing and strengthening the walls of the city and collecting weapons for its defence. If he was afraid that even the massive walls of Constantinople would not stand up to the new artillery of Mehmed he did not show it. He was tragically aware that he had been unable to find the money or the materials to satisfy a Hungarian engineer called Urban who had offered his services to him in the previous summer. Urban had sold his skills to the Sultan for a higher price; and already a great cannon had been erected on the ramparts of Rumeli Hisar which made it impossible for any ships to run the blockade. Rumour had it that Urban was constructing a gun of twice the size at Adrianople, and that it was to be brought to the walls of Constantinople. With the best will in the world, and even with the full cooperation of the churches, monasteries and private fortunes in the capital in raising the money, the Emperor could not find the men, materials and provisions to hold out for very long. But neither he nor his officials would admit the fact. To admit anxiety was to admit defeat; and this the Emperor Constantine would not consider.
In the hour of crisis his determination was shared by all his officers and courtiers, whatever their differences of opinion on other matters. The Grand Duke Loukas Notaras took charge of the defences along the shore of the Golden Horn, together with the Emperor's kinsman Nikephoros Palaiologos. Demetrios Cantacuzene and his son, the protostrator, who was a brother-in-law of Nikephoros, commanded a body of 700 men in the region of the Holy Apostles church in the centre of the city, ready to move wherever the need was greatest. His relative John Cantacuzene, the Emperor's closest confidant, was at the land walls, as also was Theophilos Palaiologos. It is sadly appropriate that, in its last months, the defence of Byzantium should have been so largely in the hands of members of the two ruling families who had guided or misguided its destinies for some 200 years. But there were others. The Venetian colony in the city, led by their baillie Girolamo Minotto, guaranteed their full support with the ships that they had in the harbour; and two visiting Venetian captains who were on their way home from the Black Sea promised to stay and fight. The exploits of the Venetians were to be recorded with pride by one of their compatriots, Nicolo Barbaro, in a diary of the siege of Constantinople.
There were men from Genoa too who volunteered to join in the defence and brought their own little companies of soldiers. The most celebrated and the most heroic was Giovanni Giustiniani Longo who arrived in January 1453 bringing a contingent of 700 troops recruited from Genoa, from Chios and from Rhodes. Giustiniani was renowned for his skill in siege warfare, and the Emperor readily entrusted to him the overall command of the defence of the land walls. He had with him a sapper and engineer called John Grant whom the Greeks thought to be a German, though he may well have come from Scotland. The Genoese of Galata across the Golden Horn were in a difficult position. They had the future of their colony to think of, and it went against their grain to join forces with the Venetians in any enterprise. But many of their people came over in secret to swell the numbers. The consul of the Catalan community in the city offered the Emperor his help; and so also did the Ottoman pretender Orhan, who perhaps hoped to gain his own advantage from the defeat of Mehmed II. There were defectors. A number of Venetian ships from Crete, whose services might have helped to tip the scale, slipped out of the Golden Horn in February with several hundred Italians on board. But it was an isolated case of cowardice. When the siege began there were in all 26 battleships anchored in the Golden Horn. They stood little chance against the number of ships which the Sultan Mehmed had equipped. The number of the defenders within the walls was assessed by George Sphrantzes, who claimed to have been set to count them by the Emperor, at 4773 and about 200 foreigners. On the Turkish side he reckoned that there were as many as 200,000 men. Neither of these figures can be accepted without question. Italian sources put the number of Greeks at 6000-7000. Turkish authorities set the total of the Ottoman forces at not more than 80,000. But it is clear that the defenders were outnumbered by at least fifteen to one.
Against such overwhelming odds the Byzantines had only two devices in their favour. One was a boom or chain across the entrance to the harbour of the Golden Horn which the Emperor ordered to be put in place at the beginning of April 1453. It ran on wooden floats from the Tower of Eugenios across to the wall of Galata and effectively prevented the Turkish fleet from entering the harbour to attack the sea wall of the city, as the crusaders had done in 1204. The other deterrent was the great land wall of Constantinople stretching across the four miles of country from the Sea of Marmora to the Blachernai district at the northern end of the Golden Horn. The Turks were rightly expected to direct their main attack along this line. The land wall or walls (for it was a triple line of fortification) had never been taken by assault since the time of its construction in the fifth century. To an attacker it presented first a ditch or moat 60 feet wide and 20 30 feet deep. There was next an embankment protected by a parapet leading to the outer wall, which was guarded by square towers built at intervals of 50-100 yards along its length and rising to heights of 30 feet. The last line of defence, separated from the outer wall by a space of about 50 feet, was the inner or great wall, about 40 feet in height, protected by 96 towers rising to heights of 60 feet. The land walls had always been the despair of the enemies of Constantinople. Now, in 1453, they were the last hope of the inhabitants. They were in reasonably good repair. Constantine's brother John VIII had looked after them. They could hold off any conventional attack, so long as the defenders could survive. But they had not been built to withstand bombardment by heavy artillery, and in I453 it was a question of time before the defenders ran out of provisions and supplies. Constantinople was for once totally cut off from the rest of Europe by sea as well as by land.
The Sultan had made sure of that. The Turkish fleet was stronger than it had ever been; and in case any help might come from the Emperor's brothers or the Venetians in Greece, the Sultan had ordered Turahan to lead another invasion of the Morea at the end of I452. The Hexamilion wall had fallen yet again and the whole province, from Corinth to the south coast, had been laid waste. Whether any help, supplies or reinforcements might be able to get through from the western world depended on factors beyond the control of the Byzantine Emperor. He had done his best. He had acknowledged his indebtedness to the west in the ceremony in St. Sophia in December I452. Many of his people wondered why this public humiliation had been necessary when the credit for the debt had still to be advanced. The Pope, for all his good intentions, could do little without the Venetians. Not until February 1453 did Venice decide to send two ships to Constantinople carrying 800 soldiers, with the promise that a larger fleet would follow. But there were endless delays in getting it ready and it did not sail until April. In the same month the Pope announced that he was sending five ships to supplement a cargo of arms and supplies that he had already dispatched on Genoese vessels. The Genoese themselves had been pleased to offer one ship. But neither John Hunyadi nor Alfonso of Aragon, whose schemes were so great on paper, was available when he was most needed. Nor did any other Christian ruler, Catholic or Orthodox, rise to the occasion. George Brankovic of Serbia, who had contributed to the repair of the city walls in I448, dutifully sent a body of troops to help his lord the Sultan break through them. John Hunyadi, who might have caused a diversion on the Danube, sent an embassy to the Sultan's camp in the course of the siege to announce the accession of a new King of Hungary. The announcement indicated that he himself was no longer bound by the agreement that he had made with Mehmed in I451. But at the same time it is said that some of his envoys kindly instructed the Sultan's gunners in the more efficient aiming of their cannons at the walls of Constantinople.
At the beginning of 1453 the Sultan ordered his general in Rumelia, Karadja Beg, to advance from Adrianople on the last remaining Byzantine possessions in Thrace. Epibatai and Herakleia on the Sea of Marmora were captured. Anchialos, Mesembria and other places on the Black Sea coast, which had formed one of the last imperial appanages, fell soon afterwards. On Easter Monday, 2 April, the advance guard of Mehmed's army moved up to pitch camp on the landward side of Constantinople. The inhabitants could give thanks that they had at least been allowed the comfort of their Easter ceremonies without interruption. There was no prospect of comfort ahead. It was now that the Emperor ordered the boom to be placed across the harbour entrance. Three days later the Sultan arrived with the rest of his army and encamped within sight and fire of the gate of St. Romanos, midway along the land walls. He had already posted a detachment under his lieutenant Zaganos Pasha in the hills above Galata to maintain communications with the Bosporos and to keep an eye on the Genoese. The first bombardment of the walls by the Turkish cannons began on 6 April. It did considerable damage. But not until the following week were the guns deployed to the Sultan's full satisfaction.
Pride of place was taken by the huge cannon constructed by the Hungarian engineer Urban. It had been brought from Adrianople on a carriage drawn by 60 oxen and manned by 200 soldiers. When its deafening roar was first heard inside the city, people rushed into the streets in terror calling on the name of the Lord. The cannonballs that it shot weighed 12 hundredweight; and though it was an unwieldy and complicated piece of machinery that could only be fired seven times a day, it had a deadly effect in wearing down the ancient structure and the masonry of the walls. The smaller guns added their contribution to the damage, and before many days were out a section of the outer wall had collapsed into the moat. The defenders had some primitive muskets and even heavier guns of their own. But they were short of explosives, and their cannons were too liable to shake the stonework of the walls. They fought back from the battlements of the outer wall with arrows, spears and catapults; and at night, when the Turkish guns were silent, they crept out to clear the rubble out of the moat and patch up the damage as best they could.
The daily bombardment of the walls was an unnerving experience for the inhabitants. But they were rewarded with some fleeting successes. The Turkish navy in the Bosporos was beaten off when it tried to break its way through the boom across the Golden Horn; and on 18 April, the Sultan's infantry which had launched a surprise assault against the most ruined portion of the wall was also driven back after some hours of heavy fighting. Two days later there was yet another ray of hope. Three of the Genoese ships commissioned by the Pope at last hove in sight of Constantinople. They had been joined by a large Greek cargo ship which the Emperor had sent to Sicily to load up with wheat supplied by Alfonso of Aragon. The Sultan at once commanded his admiral Balta Oglu to take action. A battle was fought under the walls on the Sea of Marmora. It was touch and go. But finally as the day's light began to fade the Genoese, who had lashed their three ships together with the Greek freighter, broke their way through the Turkish lines; and as soon as it was dark the boom was lifted to let them into the haven of the Golden Horn. These victories gave the Byzantines and their allies fresh heart to persevere with the struggle. They had inflicted many casualties on their enemy. They were stronger by three more ships and the richer by further supplies of weapons and food; and they had proved what they had always known, that they were better seafarers than the Turks. The Turkish admiral was made to pay a heavy price for his defeat. The Sultan publicly humiliated him, stripped him of his rank, and divided his fortune among the janissaries.
Mehmed now knew that he must find a way to get part of his fleet into the Golden Horn. His engineers had already begun work on building a road up and over the hill behind Galata from the Bosporos. It was now to be completed and used to transport his ships overland and down the other side, where they could be launched into the harbour. It was an immense undertaking, but the Sultan had the manpower and the materials. Wheeled trolleys were constructed to run on tracks along the road, pulled by oxen. The boats were mounted on the trolleys while still in the water and then dragged ashore to make their joumey across country. The preparations were finished under a cover of gunfire directed at the boom, and on the moming of 22 April the people on the walls of Constantinople were horrified to see the Turkish ships already coming down the hill beside the walls of Galata and being lowered into the water. The Emperor at once summoned a council of war with the Venetians and Giustiniani. A scheme was proposed to set fire to the Turkish ships. But its execution was fatally delayed because of disagreements between the Venetians and the Genoese, who felt that they had not been properly consulted. Not until 28 April was the attempt made, and it failed miserably. The Sultan also had a pontoon bridge constructed across the narrowest part of the Golden Horn, on which he stationed one of his largest guns.
The effectiveness of the tiny garrison within the city was now greatly reduced. Men had to be detached from their posts at the land walls to patrol the wall along the Golden Horn. There were hardly enough troops to man the four miles of the land walls, let alone the 14 miles of the whole circuit of the city. Communications between the defenders at different points were slow and difficult. The problem of supplies was becoming acute. There was still food to be had in the city but only at inflated prices, and the rich were inclined to hoard their money against the prospect of an uncertain future. The Emperor took determined action. He ordered his officials to levy money from private houses and from the churches and monasteries, and he set up a commission to use the proceeds to buy food for distribution among the people. Church plate was appropriated to be melted down, though the Emperor promised to repay its owners four-fold when the crisis was over. Meanwhile the bombardment of the walls continued with sickening monotony. The defenders had to withdraw behind the outer wall. Before long a breach had been made big enough to expose a section of the inner wall. But still the repeated attacks of the Sultan's soldiers were driven off by the troops under Giustiniani's command. Mehmed commanded his sappers to undermine the wall at different points. But they were continually obstructed by counter-mining operations directed by the engineer John Grant. On 18 May the Turks, who had succeeded in filling in a part of the moat, tried to move up against the wall an immense wooden turret on wheels from which they could storm the battlements under cover. But the defenders managed to set it alight before it had got within striking range.
The only hope left to the Emperor and his people was that the promised fleet from Venice would arrive in time before their munitions and their food supplies ran out. But the hope was dashed when a Venetian ship that had slipped out to scour the Aegean Sea returned to report that no fleet was anywhere in the offing. The morale of the people began to break. Desertions became more frequent. Food was getting scarcer, nerves and tempers were frayed. Giustiniani and Notaras took to accusing each other of cowardice and treachery. The Venetians and the Genoese quarrelled so violently that the Emperor had to remind their leaders that they were engaged in a war large enough without bringing their own conflict within the walls. The anti-unionists refused to enter the doors of St. Sophia now that it had been polluted by the Latin mass. Their followers turned on the Emperor and shouted abuse at him in the streets as one who had betrayed Orthodoxy and so involved the faithful in ruin. Many must have believed them. But it was too late now to reverse the process. The just must suffer with the unjust, the innocent with the guilty. The wrath of God was turned against all his children, as it had been foretold. The end of the world seemed to be nigh.
There was an atmosphere in which coincidences were translated into the fulhlment of oracles and unusual phenomena into half-expected portents. On the night of 24 May the dome of St. Sophia appeared to be suffused with a red glow that crept slowly up and round from its base to the great gilt cross at the top. The light lingered there for a moment and then went out. The crowds who saw it were in no mind to explain it as a reflection frpm the flames of the Turkish bonfires beyond the walls. It must be an omen. Nicolo Barbaro says that it looked like an eclipse of the moon. Had not the prophets warned that the city would fall in the days when the moon was waning? Others interpreted it as a sign that the holy light in the cathedral of the Holy Wisdom, and with it the guardian angel of the city, had gone for ever. The Virgin too, who had always been its protectress, seemed to be wavering in her affections. When the most hallowed of her icons was brought out to be paraded round the streets, it slipped offthe framework on which it was being carried aloft; and almost at once a thunderstorm broke out and the city was deluged with torrents of rain and hail. Such a coincidence would have made the Byzantines anxious at the best of times. In their present state of terror and credulity it moved them to hysteria.
The heavens themselves seemed to be saying that further resistance was hopeless. Still the Emperor would not contemplate surrender; and still his officers, both Greek and Italian, stayed at their appointed posts. His courtiers and some of his clergy implored him to escape while he could. The Queen of Cities might be about to fall. But so long as its Emperor lived there would be hope that one day he might retrieve it. It had happened before. They urged him to leave for the Morea, or for any place from which he could work for the recovery of his city. He was so exhausted, and so discouraged by the thought that even his bishops had lost heart, that he collapsed for a moment. But when they had revived him, he rejected any idea of abandoning his charge. If his city fell that would be by God's will. He would not go down in history as the Emperor who ran away. He would stay and die with his people. His reply to the Sultan was the same. Mehmed sent a messenger to him offering terms on which surrender could be arranged. The Greeks could either live under his rule on payment of an annual tribute, or they could simply evacuate the city and hnd somewhere else to live. The Emperor and his council answered that the Sultan could have anything that he wanted except for the city of Constantinople. They would rather die than surrender that. It was the last communication between a Byzantine Emperor and an Ottoman Sultan.
Mehmed had not expected any other reply. But he had covered himself. By the laws of religion he was now at liberty to do his worst and to promise his soldiers the right of three days of plunder and a just division of the spoils in anticipation of victory. The prospect excited them still further. The bombardment of the land walls grew heavier by day. A section of the inner wall collapsed in ruins. By night swarms of Turkish soldiers and navvies laboured to fill up the moat with everything they could lay their hands on. On Monday 28 May the defenders knew that the moment of truth was upon them. There was an ominous silence from the Turkish camp beyond the walls. The Sultan had ordered a day of rest before the great assault. He spent the day haranguing his troops and giving hnal instructions to his officers and to his admirals in the Golden Horn and beyond the boom. He also issued a stern warning to the Genoese in Galata to remember the fact of their neutrality. In the certainty of imminent danger the defenders forgot their quarrels and sank their differences. The Emperor had the icons and relics from the city churches brought out and carried round the walls, while all the church bells rang. A procession was formed of Greeks and Latins alike, chanting hymns and prayers. After it had wound its way round the city, the Emperor addressed a gathering of his Greek and Italian officers and of the citizens, encouraging them to be steadfast in the impending hour of trial. It was, as Gibbon says, 'the funeral oration of the Roman Empire'.
Towards the evening the people made their way as if by instinct to the cathedral of St. Sophia. The soldiers stayed at their posts on the walls. But most of the rest of the population, Latins as well as Greeks, crowded into the great church to pray together for their deliverance. Common fear and common danger worked more of a wonder than all the councils of the Church. Orthodox bishops, priests and monks, who had loudly declared that they would never again set foot in their cathedral until it had been purged of the Roman abomination, now approached the altar to join their Catholic brethren in celebrating the holy liturgy. Among the celebrants was Isidore the Cardinal, whom many of the faithful had condemned and shunned as a heretic and an apostate. The Emperor Constantine came to pray and to ask forgiveness and remission of his sins from every bishop present before receiving holy communion at the altar. The priest who gave him the sacraments cannot have known that he was administering the last rites to the last Christian Emperor of Constantinople. Those who were too old or frail for active service spent the night in vigil in the church. The Emperor went back to his palace at Blachernai to say his farewells to his household, and then rode into the night for a last inspection of his soldiers at the wall.
The attack began in the early hours of Tuesday 29 May. Wave upon wave of the Sultan's front-line troops charged up to the land walls, yelling their war cries and excited to frenzies of courage by the beat of drums and the blare of trumpets. For nearly two hours they hammered at the weakest section of the wall. But the breach was held by Giustiniani and his men; the Emperor was there to help, and the attackers began to fall back. Almost at once their place was taken by some of the more professional regiments of the Ottoman army. They were better armed and better disciplined, and they were supported by covering fire from the Turkish guns. But still they could not get through. At the same time the assault was being pressed on the sea wall along the Golden Hom. Here too the defenders still held the initiative. The Sultan's plan was to give the Christians no respite, to wear down their strength as his guns had worn down the strength of their walls. It was expensive in casualties, but the Sultan had the men to spare. The coup de grace was reserved for his own janissaries. Before the soldiers on the land walls had had time to lick their wounds and recover from the second attack, the janissaries advanced at the double, in full battle array, fresh and eager. They closed with the defenders on the outer wall. In many places the fighting was now man to man, while some of the janissaries tried to bring up scaling ladders. Just before the break of day Giovanni Giustiniani, who had been holding the line at the critical point for more than six hours, was wounded. The Emperor hurried up to beg him to stay at his post, but he was bleeding and in pain and too weak to carry on. His bodyguard took him off down to the harbour and on to a Genoese ship.
As soon as his soldiers realized that Giustiniani was gone they lost heart. The defence wavered. The janissaries saw their opportunity. One of them, a giant of a man from Lopadion called Hasan, clambered up on the top of the outer wall. He was struck down, but the others who had followed him up held their ground. The Emperor and his men fought with desperation, but the Genoese had left them to it; and before long some of the janissaries had battled their way through to the inner wall and scaled it. While the battle for the walls was in full swing a body of about 50 Turks had broken in through a little gate called the Kerkoporta further up the hill. It had been insecurely bolted and it yielded to their pressure. They were the first Turks to enter the city; and had it not been for the confusion on the walls they might have been discovered and slaughtered. By now it was too late. They had already mounted the tower above the gate and flown the Ottoman standard from its summit. Their comrades had understood the signal and followed on their heels. The janissaries at the walls saw what had occurred and echoed the shouts from within that the city was taken.
The defenders fell back as more and more of the janissaries stormed the breaches in the walls or forced their way into the city through the open gate. They were seized with panic as they saw that their means of retreat from the walls was being cut off behind them. Many had in their minds the fate of their wives and children in the city. The Emperor did everything he could to rally them. Theophilos Palaiologos, who with Demetrios Cantacuzene had valiantly beaten off one assault of the enemy, could bear the shame no longer. Crying out that he would sooner die, he charged into the press of Turks sword in hand. Other commanders followed his example; some disappeared fighting hand to hand or, like animals, tooth and nail with the janissaries. The struggle was fiercest at the gate called the Gate of St. Romanos. It was there that the Emperor Constantine was last seen. He had thrown away his regalia. He was killed fighting as a common soldier to stem the flood of infidels pouring into his Christian city.
As the cry went round that the Turks were inside the walls other sections of the defence also concluded that the cause was lost. Greek soldiers began rushing to their houses to defend and protect their families. The Venetians rushed to their ships. A few of the Genoese got safely over to Galata. Some of the men on the wall jumped to their death; others surrendered. The Turks were left free to open all the gates in the walls. There was little fighting along the Golden Horn. The walls there were soon mastered by Turkish soldiers put ashore from their ships. While they and the sailors who followed them were preoccupied with getting into the city so as not to miss their share of the booty, the Italian commander of the Venetian fleet sounded the opinion of the Genoese across the water before deciding to run for it. His sailors hacked at the boom across the mouth of the harbour until it snapped, and the Venetian ships, packed with refugees who had swum out from the shore, sailed away. Hard behind them came a number of Genoese vessels and a few of the Emperor's ships. They only just escaped in time, for by midday the Turkish navy was in control of the Golden Horn.
The sack and plunder of the city began as soon as the first Turks broke in, and as the day wore on there seemed no end to it. The conquerors were impatient to collect the rewards of their victory. Every living thing that stood in their way was slaughtered and the streets ran with blood. The houses nearest the land walls suffered earliest. They were broken open and ransacked, the children were thrown out, the women raped or captured. The palace at Blachernai and the churches nearby were soon gutted and their treasures stolen or burnt. Books and icons were pitched into the flames after their bejewelled bindings and silver frames had been wrenched off. But rumour had it that the greatest treasures of all were to be found in St. Sophia, and the janissaries were eager to be the first to get there. The church was packed with terrified people. The doors had been bolted; but the soldiers quickly broke their way in and set to work tearing down the gold and silver omaments, murdering those who got in their way, and squabbling over the possession of the more desirable captives. For there was no means of escape. The male prisoners were tied together with ropes, the women were bound by their own veils and girdles and dragged away. The great church rang with the screams and tears of human beings so suddenly reduced to the state of tortured animals. The priests who had been celebrating the morning liturgy at the high altar when the Turks broke in were never seen again. The legend soon grew that the celebrant had been observed to disappear into the wall of the sanctuary taking the chalice with him. The wall that closed behind him will reopen for him on the day that Constantinople once again becomes a Christian city; and the liturgy so rudely interrupted on the morning of 29 May 1453 will then be resumed.
Such fancies were dreamed up after the event. On the day itself men's minds were filled not with dreams of the future but with the horrors of the present. Whole families were butchered or separated one from the other as captive slaves. Their houses were wrecked and their fortunes ruined. In terms of human suffering the shock was appalling. But there were things that the Byzantines held even more dear than life itself; and to see those destroyed without a murmur of complaint from heaven was still more bewildering. The ancient icon of the Mother of God, the Hodegetria, the protectress of the city painted by St. Luke, which was brought out in procession every Easter, was tom down and smashed in pieces; and the perpetrators of the crime were not struck dumb. The cathedral and numerous other churches had been desecrated; and no voice had come from heaven. Nuns had been rounded up and divided as spoil among their captors. The crucifix had been mocked; but the veil of the temple had not been rent in twain. To some such things were sure proof of the magnitude of their sins. To others they were proof that God and his Mother had deserted them because they had betrayed the faith to the Latins. For a few, and it is said that there were monks among them, the proof that God was on the other side was so strong that they declared themselves converted to Islam.
The conquering Sultan entered the city in the afternoon with an escort of his vizirs, pashas, ulemas and janissaries. He rode at once to the church of St. Sophia to give thanks to God for his victory. To the few priests and people still hiding in corners of the building he extended his mercy. He could afford to be merciful now. One of his priests mounted the pulpit and chanted the praise of Allah and his Prophet; and then the Sultan, the Prophet's namesake, to whom it had been given to fulfil the prophecy vouchsafed to the first Caliphs of the Arabs, made his own prayer to the God of Islam at the marble altar of the Christians.
The plundering and destruction went on for three days, but the worst was over by the end of the first 12 hours. The dead were estimated at 4000; the number of prisoners was thought to be at least 50,000. There was no hope of mercy or release for those who were not worth a ransom. But the Sultan sought out the survivors of the noblest Byzantine families. The fate of the Emperor Constantine was of particular concern to him. A search was made but, though many stories are told, the Emperor's body was never certainly identihed. The important thing was to be sure that he was not still alive and that he had not escaped; and these facts at least admit of no doubt. Not even legend suggested that the last Constantine ever reappeared to lead his people back to their heritage. Of those who had fought with him or beside him in the last hours some, like Theophilos Palaiologos, had already gone valiantly to their deaths. Several of the officers and courtiers who were captured were at first honourably treated by the Sultan. Prominent prisoners were the Grand Duke Loukas Notaras, with his wife and two sons, and his son-in-law, a Cantacuzene, and the Grand Domestic Andronikos Palaiologos Cantacuzene. But five days after the conquest they were arrested with nine other notables and executed. The cause of their punishment is said to have been the Grand Duke's refusal to hand over one of his sons to the Sultan's pleasure. His children were therefore murdered before his eyes and he himself was then decapitated. His son-in-law and the Grand Domestic were also beheaded. Notaras was without doubt a brave man, but it was his treachery more than his courage that the Sultan feared. Mehmed had come round to the opinion expressed by some of his advisers that the cream of the Byzantine aristocracy would be safer dead than alive. Their widows were sent with the rest of the prisoners to Adrianople.
Several of the orphaned children of the Byzantine nobility were taken off to the Sultan's seraglio to be specially educated. In later years some of them were to rise to high office in the service of the Ottoman Empire forming like the janissaries, a separate class of servants of the Sultan. Not all the aristocracy were captured however, and in the confusion after the Turks broke in even some of the commanders who had been fighting at the walls found time to collect their wives and families and make for the ships in the harbour. A passenger list has been preserved of the refugees taken on board one Genoese ship on 29 May. It bears the names of John and Demetrios Cantacuzene, of six members of the Palaiologos family, two Lascarids, two Komneni, two of the Notaras family, and many of less distinguished birth. The ship's captain, Zorzi Doria, carried them to Chios, where some of them took refuge. Others were taken on in a Venetian ship to Crete, whence they made their different ways to the Morea, to Corfu and the Ionian islands, or to Iuly.3 It was the beginning of the Byzantine diaspora which was to send so many refugees to the Venetian-occupied islands or to Venice itself. The Greek exiles who reached Venice in growing numbers after 1453 were to find there an influential champion of their cause in the person of Anna Palaiologina Notaras, a daughter of the celebrated Grand Duke. Her father had sent her to Italy with some of the family treasures long before the fall of Constantinople. She settled in Venice with her niece Eudokia Cantacuzene. The two ladies were still respected patrons of the Greek community in Venice 30 years later, and had been granted the exceptional privilege of having a private chapel for their Orthodox devotions.
Some of the captives on whom the Sultan would have liked to lay his hands had adventurous escapes. Cardinal Isidore eluded death by exchanging his red hat and robes for those of a beggar in the streets. The beggar was executed as a cardinal, while the cardinal was caught but ransomed for next to nothing by a Genoese merchant in Galata. The Genoese Archbishop of Lesbos, Leonardo, was also ransomed by his compatriots before the Turks knew who he was. He was glad to be back on Italian soil, for he had come to dislike the Greeks and was inclined to feel that they had got what they deserved. The Turkish pretender Orhan, however, was not so lucky. He had played his part in the defence of the city, more out of desperation than loyalty. He tried to get away dressed up as a monk. But he was betrayed by one of the Byzantine prisoners and promptly beheaded. His head was sent to the Sultan. The gallant Giustiniani, the mainspring of the defence at the land walls, got as far as Chios before he died of his wounds. There were those who said that he should have stayed and died at his post. They forgot that he had no moral call or patriotic duty to be there in the first place. He was one of those whose 'shoulders held the sky suspended', even if only for a few brief hours.
The hero of the Byzantine people henceforth was to be neither a soldier nor an emperor, but a monk. The Orthodox Church, which for many years had shown greater powers of survival than the Byzantine state, was now to fill the vacuum left by the removal of the secular institutions in Christian society. The Sultan wanted it to be so. He wanted the Christain raias to be properly organized into a millet or community within his Ottoman Empire under their own leader who would be answerable to him for their conduct. The Patriarch of Constantinople was the obvious leader. But in 1453 the Patriarch Gregory was abroad. Gregory was in any case a unionist, and the Sultan was suspicious of any signs of co-operation between the Greeks and the west. The man who would best suit his purpose and be most welcome to the Byzantines as their Patriarch was George Scholarios, the monk Gennadios. A search had to be made for him, since he had been dragged off to the slave market with the other monks of his monastery. He was discovered serving in the household of a Turk at Adrianople and brought to the Sultan. To be the first Patriarch of Constantinople under infidel rule was a daunting prospect. It might make or mar the future of the Orthodox Church. Scholarios was hesitant. But in the end he accepted the responsibility; and it was with him that Mehmed worked out the proposed administration of the Christian millet in Ottoman territory. In January 1454 Scholarios was enthroned as the Patriarch Gennadios II, not in the church of St. Sophia which was now a mosque, but in the church of the Holy Apostles. The ceremony was punctiliously performed. The Sultan Mehmed handed the new Patriarch his staff of office, just as the emperors had always done in the past. The act symbolized the close relationship between Church and state. Mehmed II was pleased to see himself as the Sultan Basileus, the heir of the Caesars and the successor of all the Constantines. It was hard for Christians to see him that way, though some tried. But they were mightily relieved to find that even though they had no Emperor they were still allowed to have their Church; and thanks to the arrangements made between Gennadios and the Sultan, their Patriarch was to become in some sense the ghost of the Christian Emperor seated upon the grave thereof. In temporal authority at least the Patriarch of Constantinople lost nothing by the Turkish conquest.
Of the heroes who had held the frontiers in eastern Europe bqfore the conquest, George Brankovic died in December 1456. His Serbian Despotate had by then been greatly reduced in size and influence by Turkish encroachments, though the Sultan's main objective was the key fortress of Belgrade, which was defended by John Hunyadi. It was at this point that the line held in Europe. Mehmed had to call off his siege of Belgrade in July 1456. But Hunyadi died shortly afterwards and, with Brankovic gone as well, the race of heroes was almost extinct. The sons of Brankovic quarrelled among themselves, though his daughter Mara, the widow of the Sultan Murad, continued to have some influence over her stepson Mehmed until her death in 1487. But the protection and control of what was left of Christian Serbia became matters of Hungarian and Bosnian politics. The inhabitants of Smedrevo, the great castle that Brankovic had built on the Danube, opened their gates to the Turks on 20 June 1459. Surrender to the Sultan seemed a safer option than acting as pawns in the political games of their neighbours. Serbia was thus at last totally absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, whose frontiers now ran with those of the kingdom of Hungary.
The last Christian hero of all on the European front was Skanderbeg of Albania, who continued to defend his fortress of Kroia against repeated Turkish attacks and sieges until he died in I468. The Venetians at once intervened to take over what they had long coveted. But they were unable to hold it for more than a few years. Kroia fell to the Sultan in 1478; and by the end of the fifteenth century the Turks had advanced up to the Adriatic coast, captured Durazzo and other Venetian colonies, and put an end to the Venetian intrusion in Albania. Only the little city state of Ragusa, whose people had a way of keeping out of the heroics, managed to make arrangements with the Turks calculated to ensure their own survival and continuing prosperity.