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internal peace was on the way to being re-established in Constantinople.
Although the date of Nicholas Boulgaris™ departure from Constantinople is
not known, it may be safe to speculate that he had left during this twenty-
year period of internal strife. Given that he returned to the capital in 1391
when things were calmer, an implicit reference to his discontent with the
civil unrest of the preceding period can be detected in his claim that he had
¬‚ed to the Turks “out of distress.” It is conceivable that Nicholas, aggrieved
by the state of affairs in Constantinople and longing for a more peaceful

116 117
Ibid., nos. 442, 443. MM, vol. ii, no. 425, p. 155.
148 Constantinople
atmosphere, sought refuge with the neighboring Turks. He may therefore
be placed among the same group of people whom Kydones reproached in
1383“4 for preferring the “barbarians” to rulers of their own race.118 At least
some of these people turned to the Ottomans in their dissatisfaction with
the Byzantine ruling class, whose conduct not only hindered the establish-
ment of peace in Constantinople but was in many ways the source of the
civil discord that tormented them.119
Nicholas Boulgaris™ return to Constantinople in 1391 may have been
motivated, as suggested above, by the temporary calm experienced in the
wake of the suppression of John VII™s revolt. Future events were to indicate,
however, that Boulgaris had perhaps not picked the best time to desert the
Ottomans. A few years later the Byzantine capital was blockaded by the
forces of Bayezid I, and it remained under siege for eight consecutive years
between 1394 and 1402. During this period, most inhabitants of the city
suffered from hardships and deprivations of varying degrees and kinds,
including, above all, hunger and famine, impoverishment, and loss of
relatives or friends.120 We shall proceed in the next chapter with an analysis
of the impact of Bayezid™s siege on social and economic conditions in
Constantinople121 and then examine the role that these conditions played
on the political attitudes of the citizens.
118 See note 113 above.
119 During the civil war between John V and John VI (1341“7), Michael Doukas had left Constantinople
and sought refuge with the Turkish emir of Ayd±n in Ephesus for similar reasons. His grandson,
the historian Doukas, writes that Michael “tŸn metoik©an Þv patr©da –nhgkal©sato kaª t¼n
ˆllogen¦ kaª b†rbaron Þv qe»stepton ›sebe kaª –t©ma, e«v no“n lamb†nwn t‡v ˆtasqal©av
t¤n «Rwma©wn . . .” (Doukas“Grecu, V.5, p. 47).
120 See D. Bernicolas-Hatzopoulos, “The ¬rst siege of Constantinople by the Ottomans (1394“1402)
and its repercussions on the civilian population of the city,” ByzSt 10/1 (1983), 39“51.
121 For a partial discussion of selected aspects of this complex topic, see N. Necipo˜ lu, “Economic
g
conditions in Constantinople during the siege of Bayezid I (1394“1402),” in Constantinople and its
Hinterland, ed. C. Mango and G. Dagron (Aldershot, 1995), pp. 157“67.
chapter 7

The ¬rst challenge: Bayezid I™s siege of
Constantinople (1394“1402)



Ottoman troops roaming the outskirts of Constantinople had seized almost
all the lands surrounding the city by the year 1391, that is, a few years before
Bayezid I embarked upon the actual siege operations.1 During the siege,
therefore, the control of these areas, besides depriving the capital™s inhab-
itants of agricultural products grown there, enabled Bayezid to restrict
overland movements to and from the city and thus prevent the trans-
portation of food supplies and other necessities from elsewhere. The city™s
gates seem to have remained closed throughout most of the blockade.
In a fairly short speech written to commemorate the termination of the
siege Demetrios Chrysoloras makes three allusions to the closed gates of
the beleaguered capital, indicating the strong impact that this situation
must have had on the citizens.2 According to an anonymous eyewitness
account of the siege, Ottoman ships that patrolled the waters around Con-
stantinople prohibited access to its harbor and limited contact with the
outside world by means of the sea as well.3 Indeed, Bayezid™s strategy was
to ensure the surrender of the Byzantine capital by pushing its population
to starvation in this manner.4 Almost as soon as the siege started, therefore,
scarcity of food became such a serious threat that Manuel II was compelled
to turn immediately to Venice for grain supplies. However, the Emperor™s

1 In addition to the references cited in note 84 of ch. 6 above, see I. M. Konidares and K. A. Manaphes,
“ ¬Epitele…tiov bo…lhsiv kaª didaskal©a to“ o«koumeniko“ patri†rcou Matqa©ou A© (1397“
1410),” EEBS 45 (1981“2), 478 (= H. Hunger, “Das Testament des Patriarchen Matthaios I. (1397“
1410),” BZ 51 (1958), 299); English trans. in BMFD, vol. iv, p. 1637; cf. Schreiner, Kleinchroniken,
vol. i, Chr. 70/8, p. 544.
2 “Action de grˆces de D´m´trius Chrysoloras a la Th´otocos pour l™anniversaire de la bataille d™Ankara
a ee e
`
(28 Juillet 1403),” ed. P. Gautier, REB 19 (1961), 352, 354, §§ 9, 14, 15.
3 Gautier (ed.), “R´cit in´dit,” 106.
e e
4 Several ¬fteenth-century sources explicitly mention Bayezid™s starving out strategy: Gautier (ed.),
“R´cit in´dit,” 106; Doukas“Grecu, XIII.7, p. 79; Chalkok.“Dark´ , vol. i, p. 78; Nesrˆ, Kitˆ b-± a
e e o ¸±
Cihan-n¨ mˆ , vol. i, p. 327. See also E. A. Zachariadou, “Prix et march´s des c´r´ales en Romanie (1343“
ua e ee
1405),” Nuova rivista storica 61 (1977), 298“9; Matschke, Ankara, pp. 126“8; Bernicolas-Hatzopoulos,
“First siege,” 39“40.

149
150 Constantinople
repeated appeals to the Senate of Venice between 1394 and 1396 received
positive responses on three occasions only, once each year. At the end of
1394, the Senate ordered the shipment of 1,500 modioi (351 tons) of grain
to Constantinople, the following year 7,000“8,000 staia (441“504 tons),
and an unspeci¬ed amount in March 1396.5 Apart from the relatively small
size of these annual shipments, it is not even certain that they ever reached
Constantinople past the Ottoman ships that guarded the entrance to the
city™s harbor.
The Byzantine capital may have experienced some relief from the con-
straints of the blockade at the time of the Crusade of Nikopolis, which
engaged most of Bayezid™s armed forces in the Balkans during part of 1396.
Nonetheless, immediately following his victory at Nikopolis (September
25, 1396), the Ottoman ruler brought his army back before Constantinople
and, tightening his grip on the city, demanded its surrender.6 Thereafter,
until the end of the siege in 1402, all sources reiterate the exhausted state
of food reserves and the constant outbreaks of famine, which were accom-
panied by frequent deaths and numerous cases of ¬‚ight from the city,
sometimes to the Italians, sometimes to the Ottomans.7
In a letter written in the fall of 1398 Manuel Kalekas describes how the
population of Constantinople was worn out by famine and poverty.8 About
two years earlier Kalekas had moved from the Byzantine capital to Genoese
Pera, in part to avoid the siege and its privations, following the example of
many other people who had lost hope after Nikopolis and ¬‚ed from the
city, leaving it “deserted like a widow.”9 In 1400 Kalekas again wrote about
a famine and lack of necessities that af¬‚icted those who stayed behind in
Constantinople. He was on the Venetian island of Crete at this time where,
just like in Pera, a fairly sizable group of Constantinopolitan refugees had
taken up residence.10 The historian Chalkokondyles, too, reports the death
and ¬‚ight of large numbers of famine stricken inhabitants, but he draws
5 Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. i, nos. 868 (Dec. 23, 1394), 892 (Dec. 9, 1395), 901 (March 1, 1396). For the
e
conversion of modioi and staia to kgs/tons, see J.-Cl. Cheynet, E. Malamut, and C. Morrisson, “Prix
et salaires a Byzance (Xe“XVe si`cle),” in Hommes et richesses dans l™Empire byzantin, vol. ii, ed.
e
`
V. Kravari, J. Lefort, and C. Morrisson (Paris, 1991), p. 344 (Table 3).
6 Doukas“Grecu, XIV.1, pp. 81“3; As±kpasazade“Giese, pp. 60“1 (= As±kpasazade“Ats±z, pp. 136“7).
¸ ¸ ¸ ¸
7 The only exception to this grim picture concerning the period 1397“1402 is one instance in 1397
when provisions sent from Trebizond, Amastris, Kaffa, Venice, Mytilene, and some other islands
temporarily improved the diet and morale of the underfed Constantinopolitans: see the Latin
translation of the Bulgarian Chronicle of 1296“1413 by V. Jagi´, in J. Bogdan, “Ein Beitrag zur
c
bulgarischen und serbischen Geschichtsschreibung,” Archiv f¨ r slavische Philologie 13 (1891), 542.
u
8 Kalekas“Loenertz, no. 48, p. 235.
9 Ibid., no. 17, p. 190; see also nos. 23, 42, 48 for other references to ¬‚ight from Constantinople during
1397“8 because of the Ottoman blockade. On Kalekas™ stay in Pera (1396“9), see ibid., pp. 27“31.
10 Ibid., no. 69. On Kalekas™ residence at Crete (1399“1400), see ibid., pp. 31“9.
151
Bayezid I™s siege of Constantinople (1394“1402)
attention to those who went over to the Ottomans rather than to territories
under Genoese or Venetian rule as in the previous examples.11 Likewise, the
aforementioned anonymous eyewitness of the siege notes that many citizens
¬‚ed to the Ottomans, openly as well as in secret, because of the severity of
the famine.12 According to Doukas, moreover, shortly after the Ottoman
victory at Nikopolis the majority of the people began to contemplate
surrendering the city to Bayezid as they could no longer endure the famine
and shortages, but they changed their minds as soon as they recalled how
the Turks had destroyed the cities of Byzantine Asia Minor and subjected
their inhabitants to Muslim rule.13 Nonetheless, Doukas™ account of later
events reveals that around 1399 the persistence of the siege and famine gave
rise to a new wave of agitation among the common people of the capital
in favor of surrender.14
Concerning the last stages of the siege, sources are even more emphatic
about the harsh famine conditions and give graphic descriptions of the con-
sequent ¬‚ight of citizens in order to deliver themselves to the Ottomans
standing guard outside the city walls. In an encyclical composed in the sixth
year of the siege, the Patriarch Matthew refers more than once to a severe
famine. In the same text the patriarch also relates that he pronounced sen-
tences of excommunication against certain Byzantine ambassadors, whom
he suspected of intending to negotiate with Bayezid I the city™s surrender.15
While the patriarch does not explicitly draw any causal links between
the famine and the concurrent arrangements for surrender, other sources
are more direct in expressing such links. For example, the author of the
exploits of the French Marshal Boucicaut recounts how the starving citizens
of Constantinople, because they could not bear the outbreak of a serious
11 Chalkok.“Dark´ , vol. i, p. 77. Mistaken about the length of the siege, Chalkokondyles writes that
o
it lasted ten years.
12 Gautier (ed.), “R´cit in´dit,” 106.
e e
13 Doukas“Grecu, XIV.1, pp. 81“3. For further evidence on the impact of the Ottoman victory at
Nikopolis, see Manuel II™s letter, written during the month immediately following the battle,
where the Emperor implies that certain Byzantines who were impressed by the Ottomans™ military
superiority were converting to Islam: Dennis, Letters of Manuel II, no. 31, pp. 83“5, lines 62“79.
Another allusion to the conversion of Byzantines to Islam can be found in Joseph Bryennios™ letter
to Maximos Chrysoberges, written shortly after the battle of Nikopolis, which suggests moreover
that the converts (o¬ pr¼v t‡ t¤n ¬Agarhn¤n metab†llontev) engaged in proselytizing activity:
“ ¬Ek t¦v buzantin¦v ¬Epistolograf©av,” ed. Tomadakes, 309“14 (letter 10) (= ¬IwsŸf monaco“
to“ Bruenn©ou, vol. iii: T‡ paraleip»mena, ed. T. Mandakases [Leipzig, 1784], pp. 148“55). The
main purpose of Bryennios™ letter, however, is to dissuade Maximos Chrysoberges, ¾ ˆp¼ Graik¤n
¬Ital¼v t¦v t†xewv t¤n Khr…kwn, from his efforts to convert the Orthodox to the Catholic faith.
For the date, see R.-J. Loenertz, “Pour la chronologie des oeuvres de Joseph Bryennios,” REB 7
(1949), 20“2. For later evidence of conversion to Islam in the face of the growing power and military
successes of the Ottomans in the 1420s, see below, ch. 8, pp. 199“200 and note 62.
14 Doukas“Grecu, XIV.4, p. 85. 15 MM, vol. ii, no. 626, pp. 463“4.
152 Constantinople
famine circa 1400, escaped from the city by lowering themselves with ropes
down the walls at night and turned themselves in to the Ottomans. Bouci-
caut™s lieutenant Jean de Chateaumorand, who was in Constantinople from
1399 to 1402, tried to reduce the hunger problem by sending his soldiers
on small-scale plundering expeditions into the surrounding countryside
whenever circumstances made it possible for them to slip out of and then
back into the city without being noticed by the Ottomans.16 The anony-
mous eyewitness to the siege likewise indicates that Constantinople was
seized by a terrible famine at the outset of 1400, which caused everyone
to lose hope and compelled the majority of the inhabitants to go over to
the enemy. Meanwhile a large group of men and women who managed
to escape from the city by sea fell captive to the Turks near Abydos and
Sestos as they were trying to sail through the Dardanelles.17 Finally, with
reference to the spring“summer of 1402 a short chronicle notice reports
that, as everyone inside Constantinople was famished, the populace took
¬‚ight, while at the same time an embassy set out to deliver the city™s keys
to the Ottoman Sultan.18
The direct economic outcome of food shortages, on the other hand,
was a sharp increase in prices, not only of foodstuffs, but also of ¬elds and
vineyards within the city. Although we do not possess numerical data con-
cerning a wide range of food products, we do nonetheless have information
about the most basic item of consumption in every Constantinopolitan™s
daily diet, namely wheat, on the basis of which we may postulate a general
upward trend in food prices during the siege years. From about 1399 to
1402 wheat prices in Constantinople varied between 20 and 31 hyperpyra
per modios (= 234 kg).19 By contrast, in September“October 1402, only a
16 Le livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut, mareschal de France et gouverneur de
Jennes, ed. D. Lalande (Geneva, 1985), I.35, pp. 152“3. See also D. A. Zakythinos, Crise mon´tairee
´conomique a Byzance du XIIIe au XVe si`cle (Athens, 1948), p. 110, for a reference, in a
`
et crise e e
text written by Christine de Pisan (1364“1431), to the famine in Constantinople at the time of
Chateaumorand™s stay.
17 Gautier, “R´cit in´dit,” 106.
e e
18 Schreiner, Kleinchroniken, vol. i, Chr. 22/28, p. 184. See also the references, without any indication
of date, to deaths, ¬‚ight, and decision to surrender because of famine, which seem most likely to be
alluding to circumstances during the last years of the siege, in Kritob.“Reinsch, I.16,10, pp. 32“3;
G. Th. Zoras (ed.), Cronik¼n perª t¤n to…rkwn soult†nwn (kat‡ t¼n Barberin¼n KÛdika 111)
(Athens, 1958), p. 35.
19 These prices are reproduced, with references to the sources, but calculated per modios thalassios
(= 1/18 modios), in Cheynet, Malamut, and Morrisson, “Prix et salaires,” p. 360 (Table 9: nos. 70,
74, 77), and also in the updated list now available in C. Morrisson and J.-Cl. Cheynet, “Prices and
wages in the Byzantine world,” in EHB, vol. ii, pp. 827“8 (Table 5). The evidence from Doukas
(ed. Grecu, p. 85) that a modios of wheat cost more than 20 hyperpyra, which appears under the year
1390 in both of these tables, should preferably be dated to c. 1399. An additional piece of evidence,
not listed in either table, indicates without giving a precise date that at the time of the siege one
153
Bayezid I™s siege of Constantinople (1394“1402)
few months after the termination of the siege, the price of one modios of
wheat immediately dropped down to 7 or 8 hyperpyra, and by 1436 further
down to 4“6.25 hyperpyra, reaching a level comparable to recorded pre-siege
prices of 5 hyperpyra (in 1343) and 6.75 hyperpyra (in 1366) per modios.20
There were not too many Constantinopolitans who could afford the cost of
their daily bread corresponding to the exorbitant siege-time wheat prices,
which are roughly three to seven times higher than the attested pre- and
post-siege prices. Consequently, the meager supplies were used up mostly
by the rich, while part of the remaining population either felt constrained
to leave the city or contemplated surrendering to the Ottomans in order
to avoid starvation.
There is also some evidence indicating that ¬elds and vineyards in the
interior of Constantinople rose in value as the possibility of agricultural
production outside the city walls declined, side by side with declining
imports. At some time between late 1397 and 1399, a ¬eld of 44 modioi
was sold for 800 hyperpyra “ that is, slightly over 18 hyperpyra per modios.21
In 1401 another ¬eld, measuring 8 mouzouria, went on sale at a price
of 160 hyperpyra, or approximately 20 hyperpyra per modios.22 Although
data permitting a direct comparison of these prices with those before or
after the siege are lacking for Constantinople, no ¬eld price exceeding
1.5 hyperpyra per modios is attested in the rest of the empire throughout
the fourteenth century, with only one exception in Christoupolis, where
a price of 12 hyperpyra per stremma has been registered for 1365, which is
still far below the Constantinopolitan ¬gures quoted above.23 On the other
hand, vineyard prices in Constantinople recorded for the years 1397“1401
range between approximately 30 and 45 hyperpyra per modios.24 In this
case, too, the absence of any earlier or later price information in relation to
the capital™s vineyards makes a direct comparison impossible, but available
fourteenth-century ¬gures from other parts of the empire, ranging roughly
between 7 to 15 hyperpyra per modios and 3 to 12 hyperpyra per stremma,
are much lower than the prices encountered in Constantinople at the time

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