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before the Ottomans. The remedy that Chrysoloras recommended was
one which would be instrumental in reducing the sharp socioeconomic
differentiation that existed among the inhabitants of the capital. Thus
Chrysoloras™ call for a general redistribution of wealth struck at the root of
the major problems that weakened Constantinople in its struggle against
Bayezid™s forces and compelled many of its citizens to yield to the enemy,
namely poverty, hunger, and depopulation caused to a large extent by
frequent cases of ¬‚ight from the city to escape the adverse circumstances.
The Virgin Mary was upheld by Byzantines as the patron saint and protectress of Constantinople,
comparable to Thessalonike™s St. Demetrios.
139 “Action de grˆces,” ed. Gautier, 356, lines 142“8.
a
chapter 8

From recovery to subjugation: the last ¬fty years of
Byzantine rule in Constantinople (1403“1453)



The last ¬fty years of Constantinople under Byzantine rule constitute a crit-
ical period during which the city™s inhabitants survived two Ottoman sieges
(in 1411 and 1422) and, before ¬nally succumbing to a third one in 1453,
faced the union of their Church with the Church of Rome at the Council
of Florence in 1439. The Union of Florence became the source of much
controversy in the city and led to divisions among the population. That dis-
sensions persisted among the citizens to the very last moment is indicated
by Doukas, who reports that when Mehmed II™s forces appeared before
the Byzantine capital in 1453 a group of Constantinopolitans exclaimed in
despair, “Would that the City were delivered into the hands of the Latins,
who call upon Christ and the Mother of God, and not be thrown into the
clutches of the in¬del,” while others contradicted them by declaring, “It
would be better to fall into the hands of the Turks than into those of the
Franks.”1 Although the union of the Churches was essentially a religious
matter, reactions to it were not determined solely by people™s religious
views. Rather they were expressions of overall attitudes towards the Latins
and the Ottomans, which in turn had been shaped by a set of political,
social, and economic factors predating the Council of Florence. One of the
purposes of this chapter is to examine, in the light of political, social, and
economic developments, the attitudes displayed towards foreign powers by
the inhabitants of the Byzantine capital during the last half century of its
existence, in order to reach a better understanding of how or why people
from diverse backgrounds were led towards the opinions they defended
with regard to the union of the Churches and of the reasons underlying
1 Doukas“Grecu, XXXVII.10, XXXIX.19, pp. 329 (lines 12“15), 365 (lines 29“30). The famous dictum
attributed by Doukas to the grand duke Loukas Notaras is a variant of the latter statement: “Kreit-
t»teron –stin e«d”nai –n m”sh t¦€ p»lei faki»lion basile“on To…rkwn £ kal…ptran Latinikžn”
(ibid., p. 329, lines 11“12; see below, p. 216 and note 131). As reported by Marino Sanudo the Younger,
a similar slogan “ “The zarkula [i.e. the Turkish hat] is preferable to the baretta [i.e. the Venetian
hat]” “ was current among the Greeks of Corfu: see E. A. Zachariadou, “The neomartyr™s message,”
elt©o K”ntrou Mikrasiatik¤n Spoud¤n 8 (Athens, 1990“1), 53.

184
185
Constantinople (1403“1453)
the two con¬‚icting views, reported by Doukas, that were pronounced in
1453. The analysis of social and economic conditions during these years
will, furthermore, enable us to evaluate to what degree Constantinople had
been able to recover from the destructive effects of Bayezid I™s siege, and in
what state the city was by the time of Mehmed II™s siege, which sealed its,
and with it the Byzantine Empire™s, fate before the Ottomans.
Unfortunately, information regarding political attitudes is not evenly
distributed throughout these ¬fty years. For the period prior to the Council
of Florence references to political attitudes are quite rare and incidental.
Sources do not tend to disclose the dispositions of individuals or groups
towards either the Latins or the Ottomans in a direct and systematic manner
until after the Council, when they begin to report with some consistency
the reactions that were aroused by the acceptance of the union. While this
lopsidedness may be viewed as a problem originating from the nature of the
sources, to some extent it may also be a re¬‚ection of reality itself because,
with the exception of the two brief Ottoman sieges mentioned above,
relatively peaceful relations were maintained between Constantinople and
the Ottomans during most of the period preceding the Council of Florence,
wherefore people may not have been as inclined to vocalize their political
sentiments as they did in times of crisis or severe danger. The heavier
emphasis placed in parts of this chapter on socioeconomic details, which
are helpful in elucidating the different forces that played a role in the
formation and evolution of political attitudes, is a direct consequence of
this lopsidedness.
On the other hand, the source material on Mehmed II™s siege, though
abundant, is nonetheless limited in terms of its variety, compared with the
material available on Bayezid I™s siege. Most importantly, we are deprived of
the acts of the patriarchal court of Constantinople (inextant after the initial
years of the ¬fteenth century), which served as a rich mine of documentary
evidence embodying precise data on socioeconomic conditions during the
¬rst Ottoman siege. Thus, for the reconstruction of social and economic
life in Constantinople around the time of the Ottoman conquest, we have
to depend mainly on literary sources. Given, however, the shortcomings
and inaccuracies of the literary accounts of 1453 with regard to this type
of information, the data presented in this chapter on the ¬nal years of the
Byzantine capital will inevitably differ in nature and detail from the data
presented in the previous chapter on Bayezid™s siege.2

2 For a discussion of the inaccurate nature of the literary accounts of 1453 in a different context, see
M. Balard, “Constantinople vue par les t´moins du si`ge de 1453,” in Constantinople and its Hinterland,
e e
186 Constantinople
In 1403 Demetrios Chrysoloras stated that the poor in Constantinople
became rich after the fateful battle of Ankara.3 This assertion, which is
found in the hyperbolic thanksgiving oration delivered by Chrysoloras on
the ¬rst anniversary of Bayezid I™s defeat in the battle, cannot be accepted
in a strictly literal sense. In fact, between 1403 and 1408 Chrysoloras himself
received a letter from Manuel II in which the Emperor referred to the lack
of private and public funds both in Constantinople and in Thessalonike.4
Furthermore, the Castilian ambassador Clavijo, who visited Constanti-
nople during the same year in which Chrysoloras composed his oration,
described the city™s ruined houses, churches, and monasteries, its conspicu-
ously sparse population, and the almost village-like appearance of this once
great urban center.5 In his commemorative speech, then, Chrysoloras was
clearly trying to paint a positive and optimistic picture which did not fully
correspond to the actual conditions in Constantinople in the immediate
aftermath of the battle of Ankara.
However, in the course of the decade that followed the battle, the Byzan-
tine capital did embark upon a period of semi-recovery, largely aided by the
civil wars among Bayezid™s sons. A letter written by Joseph Bryennios dur-
ing this period makes references, though in somewhat overstated terms, to
“topmost prosperity of affairs,” “wealth in all quarters,” and “great peace,”
both external and internal.6 Patriarch Matthew™s testamentary typikon for
the monastery of Charsianeites dated 1407 reports that “everyone,” includ-
ing the monastery itself, began to restore their devastated lands outside
the city following Bayezid™s removal, and gives evidence also of repairs
undertaken on the monastery™s tower, which had suffered damage during
the latter™s siege.7 When, therefore, one of the contenders to the Ottoman
throne, Musa Celebi, laid siege to Constantinople in 1411, the citizens were
¸
able to withstand the challenge and repel his forces without too much
hardship, even though a recent plague had wiped out a large part of the
ed. Mango and Dagron, pp. 169“77. The principal sources have been collected and edited, with Italian
translation, in A. Pertusi, La caduta di Costantinopoli, 2 vols. (Verona, 1976); A. Pertusi, Testi inediti
e poco noti sulla caduta di Costantinopoli, edizione postuma a cura di A. Carile (Bologna, 1983).
3 “Action de grˆces,” ed. Gautier, 352.
a
4 Dennis, Letters of Manuel II, no. 44, p. 117. See also ibid., no. 49, p. 141, for a reference to the ¬nancial
straits of the Byzantine government in 1407“8.
5 Clavijo, Embassy, pp. 87“8. Cf. Angold, “Decline of Byzantium,” pp. 220“1.
6 T‡ paraleip»mena, ed. Mandakases, letter 24, pp. 179“80 (= “ ¬ Ek t¦v buzantin¦v ¬ Epi-
stolograf©av,” ed. Tomadakes, 345). Bryennios™ letter can be dated to the period of civil wars
among Bayezid™s sons (1402“13) since he writes of more than one Ottoman ruler, referring to them
in the plural as satraps or tyrants none of whom caused trouble to the emperor.
7 Konidares and Manaphes, “ ¬ Epitele…tiov bo…lhsiv,” 480“1 (= Hunger, “Testament,” 301); English
trans. in BMFD, vol. iv, p. 1639. For the destruction of the monastery™s estates and tower during
Bayezid™s siege, see above, ch. 7, p. 176.
187
Constantinople (1403“1453)
population.8 A group of Constantinopolitans, nonetheless, ¬‚ed to Venetian
territories where they remained long after the lifting of Musa™s siege, which
prompted Emperor Manuel II to demand from the Senate of Venice their
return in 1415.9
A more serious threat to the Byzantine capital came in the summer
of 1422 with another Ottoman siege conducted by Murad II. A speech
concerning the reforti¬cation of Constantinople which Joseph Bryennios
delivered probably not long after 1415, subsequent to two speeches on the
same subject by the Emperor and the patriarch, suggests that the city™s walls
may not have been in good condition at the time of Murad II™s attack, for
Bryennios reproached the wealthy citizens, particularly the archontes, for
building three-story houses for themselves while the forti¬cations, which
were in dire need of repairs, remained neglected over the past thirty years.
Pointing out that the Ottomans could easily ravage the city within a single
week given the poor state of the walls, Bryennios urged everyone, rich and
poor, to hasten to make contributions towards the reconstruction work.10
We can only guess what little impact the successive exhortations by the
Emperor, the patriarch, and Bryennios must have had since John Kananos,
the eyewitness to Murad II™s siege, informs us that the victory of the
Ottomans seemed so likely in 1422 that it gave rise to great panic and fear
inside the city. The inhabitants, whose numbers must have been reduced
further by plagues in 1417 and in 1420“1,11 were terri¬ed at the thought
8 According to a short chronicle notice, the plague resulted in the deaths of ten thousand people:
Schreiner, Kleinchroniken, vol. i, Chr. 9/41. See also ibid., Chr. 33/25 (Sept. 1409“Aug. 1410); vol.
ii, pp. 394“5; Iorga, Notes, vol. i, pp. 179“80; Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. ii, no. 1362 (Jan. 10, 1410). On
e
Musa™s siege, see Chalkok.“Dark´ , vol. i, pp. 166“7; Doukas“Grecu, XIX.9, pp. 127“9. Doukas
o
(p. 127, lines 30“2) notes, too, the capital™s low population at the time of the siege.
9 Iorga, Notes, vol. i, pp. 238“9; Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. ii, no. 1592 (Sept. 23, 1415).
e
10 ¬IwsŸf monaco“ to“ Bruenn©ou t‡ eËreq”nta, ed. Boulgares, vol. ii, pp. 273“82 (= “ ¬IwsŸf
Bruenn©ou hmhgor©a perª to“ t¦v P»lewv ˆnakt©smatov (1415 m.X.),” ed. N. B. Tomadakes,
EEBS 36 [1968], 3“12). The exact date of this speech cannot be determined; however, Bryennios™
reference to the rebuilding of the Hexamilion as “recently” (›nagcov: Boulgares, p. 280; Tomadakes,
9“10, lines 188“92) points to a time shortly after 1415. On the other hand, the reference to “thirty
years” during which the walls remained neglected (Boulgares, p. 280; Tomadakes, 9, lines 180“4)
seems to be alluding to the former known repairs undertaken by John V c. 1389“91 (see above, ch. 6,
p. 137 and note 80), which would place the date in the environs of 1419“21. At any rate, the speech
has to antedate Murad II™s siege in 1422 since Bryennios explicitly notes that it is a time of peace
and truce with the Ottomans (Boulgares, p. 279; Tomadakes, 9, lines 168“9), apparently during the
reign of Mehmed I. Three-story houses (triÛrofa: Boulgares, p. 280; Tomadakes, 9, line 183) were
ˇc
considered a symbol of wealth in Byzantium: see I. Sevˇenko (ed.), “Alexios Makrembolites and his
˜Dialogue between the Rich and the Poor™,” ZRVI 6 (1960), 221, n. 10. For a concrete example of
this type of construction activity, see John Chortasmenos™ poems depicting the palace-like house
of Theodore (Palaiologos) Kantakouzenos (d. 1410) in Constantinople, built “a short time ago”
(newst©). On the house and its owner, see below, pp. 197“8.
11 For these plagues, see Iorga, Notes, vol. i, p. 269; Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. ii, no. 1676 (Sept. 6, 1417);
e
Doukas“Grecu, XX.3, p. 135; Sphrantzes“Grecu, V.2, VIII.1, pp. 8, 12. Note that Bryennios cites a
188 Constantinople
of falling into captivity. They worried, in particular, about the religious
dangers which their community would have to face in the event of the cap-
ture of Constantinople by Murad II™s forces, namely conversion to Islam,
circumcision of children, destruction of churches and their replacement by
mosques.12 Meanwhile, a rumor about the capital™s betrayal to the enemy
culminated in the execution of the imperial of¬cial Theologos Korax,
who was alleged to have made a secret pact with the Ottoman Sultan.13
Nonetheless, the majority of the population, from the professional soldier
to the untrained civilian, including monks, ecclesiastics, and women, are
reported to have rallied to the city™s defense against the Ottomans.14
As far as help from the West was concerned during the siege of 1422, on
August 26 the Senate of Venice rejected a proposal for a naval operation
against the Ottoman ¬‚eet near the shore of Constantinople. On the same
day the Senate also took the decision to inform the Byzantine Emperor
that it could not send any military or ¬nancial assistance to the besieged
city before the following spring. The Venetian authorities suggested that
the Emperor should instead seek such assistance from the Genoese and
the Hospitallers of Rhodes, unless, they added, he should be amenable
to making peace with Murad II, in which case Venice would gladly offer
its services to facilitate a mediation between the two parties.15 It is clear
that Venice, in order to secure its commercial interests in the area, was
making efforts to maintain good relations with the Ottoman Sultan, to
the detriment of Byzantium. Indeed, following Murad II™s accession to the
throne in 1421, the Venetian Senate had sent the bailo of Constantinople,
Benedetto Emo, to the Ottoman court in order to request from the new
Sultan trading rights for Venetian merchants in Ottoman territories; the
bailo was speci¬cally instructed to conceal from the Byzantine Emperor the
purpose of his visit to the Sultan.16 Already at the time of Bayezid I™s siege

¬gure of seventy thousand people or more in his speech on the rebuilding of the forti¬cations: T‡
eËreq”nta, ed. Boulgares, vol. ii, p. 280 (= “ hmhgor©a,” ed. Tomadakes, 9, line 188).
12 Cananos, L™assedio di Costantinopoli, pp. 66“7, § 16. It should be noted that Kananos™ account is
marked by a heavy emphasis on religious matters. For another example of the fear of circumcision
expressed by a Christian from Cyprus, whom the traveler Bertrandon de la Broqui`re met in Konya
e
in the early 1430s, see Voyage d™Outremer de B. de la Broqui`re, pp. 117“19.
e
13 Doukas“Grecu, XXVIII.1“4, pp. 229“35. On Theologos Korax, see above, ch. 6, pp. 142“4.
14 Cananos, L™assedio di Costantinopoli, p. 71, §§ 20, 21.
15 For these deliberations, see Sathas, Documents, vol. i, no. 79, pp. 119“23; Iorga, Notes, vol. i,
pp. 323“4; Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. ii, nos. 1854, 1855.
e
16 Iorga, Notes, vol. i, pp. 312“13; Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. ii, no. 1825 (Oct. 10, 1421). The requests of
e
Venice from Murad II included the application in Ottoman territories of the same privileges that
Venetian merchants enjoyed in Constantinople, and the right to extract from the Sultan™s provinces
10,000 modioi of wheat annually. It should be noted that although Thessalonike, the second major
city and commercial center of the Byzantine Empire, was under Ottoman attack when Venice agreed
189
Constantinople (1403“1453)
the Venetians had shown their bias in favor of the Ottoman state through
their unwillingness to provide military assistance to Byzantium, particularly
following the failure of the Crusade of Nikopolis, which con¬rmed the
growing power of the Ottomans. In 1398, for example, the Senate had
twice rejected the proposition to send galleys to Constantinople and the
Black Sea regions, considering the area too insecure for the commercial
activities of Venetian merchants and desiring, moreover, not to aggravate
Bayezid.17 During Musa™s siege in 1411 as well Venice had maintained a
uniform position. Induced by the need to guard Venetian commercial
interests, the Senate had sent an ambassador to the Ottoman ruler with
speci¬c instructions to resort to a cooperation with the Byzantine Emperor
only if all efforts at concluding a favorable agreement with Musa were
to fail.18 As to the Genoese whom the Venetian Senate recommended to
the Byzantine Emperor as a potential source of aid in 1422, ironically,
it was on Genoese ships that Murad II and his forces had crossed from
Anatolia to Rumelia earlier that year.19 With its commercial interests in
mind, Genoa too, like Venice, had made it a policy since the unsuccessful
Crusade of Nikopolis to give priority to maintaining good relations with
the Ottomans.20 Constantinople could not, therefore, count on receiving
help from either one of these Italian states.
It was by good fortune, though perhaps not by mere chance, that about
three months after the beginning of military operations Murad II abruptly
abandoned the siege of Constantinople in order to attend to a threat
of civil war from his younger brother Mustafa in Anatolia.21 The next

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