The Ottoman Empire Episode 6 Urdu | Constantinople’s best kept secret in 1453 | قسطنطنیہ کی سب سے بڑی طاقت کیا تھی؟
The splendid city of Constantinople was the Capital of the world power, the Roman Empire, in 1453AD. The Romans ruled vast areas of Eastern Europe, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. No other city was financially so rich and powerful as it was Constantinople. A 1000 years ago this city had the population of 800,000 when the total world population was 260million. Orthodox Christians paid huge respect to Constantinople and faced to this city while praying. The Christians fought the Crusades against the Muslims in the 11th century to protect Constantinople.
But the population of this City in 1453 had reduced to only 60,000. Most of the City had been ruined. And the City now was like a ghost of the past glory which it was preserving through the strong walls. Now the remnants of the old majesty of the City, were under serious threat by the Ottomans. An 1100-year distance existed between the first and the last Emperor of Constantinople. During that period the City came under siege 33 times. Except a Crusade army no other could conquer this City during this period. Now this chapter was about to be closed.
Such a war going be waged for which the Muslims all over the world had waited for 700 years. I will show you this historic tale in the Ottoman Empire series by ‘Dekho, Suno, Jano.’ Two elements are vital in a war. One is spirit and will power and the other is essential resources. But more than all this the most important is the reason and cause for which the war is fought. Which means why we are fighting. Sultan Mehmed II, had four big reasons to conquer Constantinople. First was asylum which the Romans had accorded to his rebellious uncle of Orhan Qibli along with 500 others.
And this fact was intolerable for the Ottoman Turks. Secondly, the Sultan strongly desired to make Constantinople, known as Queen of the cities, his Capital And the third reason was purely commercial. Being a link between Europe and Asia, Constantinople also provided a lucrative trade route. Only from India 1000 tonnes of goods annually passed through this route which showed usefulness of the City. And the fourth reason was religious attachment of the Christians. Which meant that the Ottomans had given religious freedom to the Orthodox Christians under their subject.
And the conquest of Constantinople would mean making them more loyal to the Sultanate. The Ottomans had other reasons also to conquer the City. But the Roman Emperor Constantine XI, had one reason to protect the City. The City was the legacy of the Romans that had come to him after 1000 years. So the 49-year old experienced Constantine decided to resist the 21-year old Sultan Mehmed II, to save the City. The Ottomans were the super power of the time with every resources available to them. They had means to wage a major war and also afford the losses therein.
But Constantine only had the City. That too was deserted and ruined where the inhabitants were hardly passing the days. The Roman treasury did not have money even to restore the western wall of the City. This wall had become dilapidated during the bombardment in the last attack. The Roman Emperor had a total of 8000 soldiers in his army. Of them only up to 5000 soldiers belonged to the City. The rest of them were mercenaries who had joined the Roman army from Venice, Geneva, and Italy. The question arises what motivated Emperor Constantine to face the Ottoman given this situation?
Apparently the upcoming war was one-sided but actually it was not so. Why so? As a matter of fact, Constantine XI still had the advantages which were not available to the Ottomans. The major one was about the war which he had to fight inside the walled City instead of the open field. His soldiers could face the Turks from safe places with balls, stones, arrows and Greek fire chemical. The fire from the Greek chemical was such that the water could not put it out. Moreover, the Ottomans could not harm the Romans until they would climb the City walls. And it was a task next to impossible.
There was a reason for it. Just look at the structure of the City walls. A 120 feet deep and 150 feet wide trench was laid outside the walls that could be filled with water. Behind this trench, two small height walls were erected before the 36 to 100 feet tall last one. This last wall was four miles long. A 60 feet platform was laid between the two small height walls. From this platform, the City guards could shower arrows on the advancing army of the Ottomans. So the trench and soldiers shooting arrows from the two walls was the main defence of the Romans.
The Ottoman army had to deal with the Roman archers before reaching the platform for the man to man fight. The Roman soldiers also had the option to take shelter behind the third wall. This defence structure had taken life of countless soldiers in the past when they tried to climb these walls. It has been the history of Constantinople over the centuries. Not only these walls but the whole City was developed from the point of view of war. Just look out once again.. It is Constantinople. This narrow sea passage on its upper side is the Strait of Bosphorus, which means ocean.
On the lower side of the city, it is Sea of Marmara and above it Golden Horn; so sea on the third side also. The Golden Horn was also the weak point of Constantinople. Anyone would find a weak wall on this side, if one managed to cross the narrow sea to reach the City. But the City guards had also devised a mechanism to check this possibility. In April 1453, they affixed a 30 tonnes heavy chain on this narrow seaway. This chain was like a road barrier as it was affixed across the two sides of the sea. At the one end of the chain it was Constantinople while at the other, it was Galata.
Galata was the colony of Geneva while some fighters of Geneva were in Constantinople to save the city. But officially Geneva was neutral and did not side with anyone. Therefore the Ottomans could not enter Galata to remove the chain. The chain could also not be broken as 10 ships were present to protect it. Now just look at the Sea of Marmara. After Golden Horn attack on Constantinople was possible from this side but here the sea was quite rough. It meant the sea was not calm so it was hard to keep the ships under control. As such the ships could be stuck up in whirlpool, capsized or smashed by hitting a rock.
Therefore this side was also not suitable for attacks. So it was the sea on three sides and the world’s strongest and the safest wall on the fourth. They all were protecting Constantinople Now Constantine had to do nothing much except to sit along with his army, in the City. And keep the Turks engaged in fighting when they would reach the City exhausted after the journey of 140 miles. And keep the Ottomans in this state until they would become half-dead due to heat, hunger, thirst and illness. That was why Constantine was quite confident of victory despite meager means and little army.
These were the measures to defend the City. But, just stop here! The City had another defence layer in the form of its strategic depth. And it was Constantinople relations with other European states. This map shows Constantinople alone amid Ottoman Sultanate that had the entire Europe outside it. The entire Europe could help the Constantinople if Pope Nicholas V would declare Crusades agains the Turks. But the Pope had laid a condition before Constantine for pronouncing the Crusades. The Pope wanted end to the Orthodox Christians of Constantinople by their merger into the Catholics.
Constantine also accepted this condition. So, Cardinal Isidore representing the Pope, reached Constantinople along with over 200 archers. On December 12,1453, the merger of the Orthodox and the Catholics churches took place at Sophia Hagia. Now Constantine could get assistance of the Crusade army anytime. But that did not happen. As despite hectic efforts by the Pope, no European power was willing to fight the mighty Ottomans. The reason being, the religious sentiments in Europe had considerably diminished in the 15th century.
The defeats in the Crusades had also curtailed the influence of the Pope on the European states. Instead of religion, the Europe powers became pragmatic about their affairs. In other word, for any European state fighting the super power of the time, the Ottomans, was not a fun. Clashing with the Ottomans meant putting the state at stack. Sultan Mehmed had already reached peace and trade agreements with Hungary and other European states. And the vassal European state of the Turks, Serbia had also inducted its 1500 soldiers in the Ottoman army. However Constantinople did get a little help from outside.
It was the commander of Geneva, John Guistiani who joined the Romans with 700 soldiers in January 1453. Constantine appointed Guistiani commander of his army knowing his war wisdom. Geneva soldiers and the archers sent by the Pope, made strength of the Roman army to 9000. The Ottoman Sultan had well neutralized the strategic depth that was available to the Roman Emperor. As the Sultan had reached agreements with the European powers. And the question was about Sultan’s capacity to deal with the Roman, army, the city wall, and the sea?
First of all the Ottomans had 20 soldiers against one soldier of the enemy. The Ottoman guns were capable of breaking the walls of Constantinople along with killing the Romans on them. The fleet of 180 ships was sufficient to lock down the city of Constantinople. The Strait of Bosphorus was the only sea link to Constantinople in 1452 AD. This map explains the ships from Geneva and Venice carrying goods to Constantinople through the Black Sea. The Sultan built a castle six miles away from the city on the European side of Bosphorus strait in 1452.
It was called Rumelian Castle. The ardent Sultan himself worked with others to built this Castle only in four and a half months. This castle stands at that place to-date. Guns were fitted in the Castle with deployment of 400 soldiers. The grand grandfather of the Sultan, Bayezid I, had also built a fort on the Asian side of the Bosphorus strait. Right in front of the Rumelian Castle, this fort still stands there. This old fort was also garrisoned with guns and the soldiers. The sea width between the two forts now was only half a mile and the Turk got a complete control over it.
We told you in the last episode that the Ottoman gun from the Romelian had hit and sunk a ship of Venice. Another two ships of Venice tried to cross this narrow sea passage but the Ottomans seized them. So no outside help could come to Constantinople through this passage. The fleet of Sultan Mehmed at Sea of Marmara had already closed the way to Constantinople. Did all this mean, a one-sided war in favour of the Ottomans once again? Surprisingly, still it was not the case. The Sultan was still missing a thing which the Roman Emperor had. Constantine XI, trusted this thing the most.
It was ‘time’. How Constantine rest maximum confidence in time? No outside army could stay in Constantinople for long whether it was the summer or the winter. The spring season before March till April was the best time for attacking Constantinople. After the Spring the attackers could sustain siege of the city maximum till May. After that rigidly hot weather, severe thirst, and sickness forced the rivals to lift the siege and go back. Now the Ottomans might be defeated if Constantine would keep them outside the city for three months.
The arrangements made for the defence of the city could check entry of the enemy for three months. But the Sultan had time less than three months. As he had led a large army which needed … food and other essential facilities that the Sultan could not provide for a long time. Moreover the army of Sultan comprised the soldiers who were under the command of different tribal chiefs. Unlike the present day armies, the soldiers at that time were not so disciplined and organised. They were divided on the basis of tribes, ethnicity and region so their first loyalty was with their own chiefs.
Their chiefs had also motivated them to join the Ottoman army on the attraction of… getting maximum booty, slaves and women in case of winning the war. And a delayed start of war or a prolonged war could make these chiefs go back with their soldiers Mindful of all those possibilities Sultan Mehmed proceeded from Edirne on March 23, 1453 on Friday. The Sultan had specially chosen Friday as it was the holy day for the Muslims. Sultan Mehmed riding a horse proceeded with the descendants of the Prophet (PBUH) on his both sides.
A large number of religious scholars and the Sheikhs also accompanied him. They all were praying loudly for the success in war. Unlike the other armies, the Ottomans caused no damage to the villages and the small cities on the way. At the rear of the army, guns were being pulled. As many as 60 oxen and 200 soldiers were pulling only the Super Gun. Like the modern day practice, the Ottoman army moved through the paths after they were levelled and repaired. The engineering unit had proceeded to Constantinople before the main Ottoman army could move out.
The engineers beforehand fixed the tracks and the bridges the Ottoman army had to pass through. For easy movement of the guns, the passage was levelled. Concrete roads were built where the path was too rough. The servicemen were also included in the army. They were cooks, carpenters, iron-smiths, cobblers, wood cutters, tailors, fireball makers and the potters. The news about the movement of the Ottoman army had reached Constantinople. The Christian festival, Easter, was also around the corner.
All hopes of help from Europe had died down while the Orthodox again became hostile to the Catholics. Easter was falling on April 1, Sunday. Every church of Constantinople was filled with the worshipers. Prayers were offered for success against the Turks and the bells were rung. But in Sophia Hagia church no one was present to pray and light the candles. It was because the Catholic Pope did not send the Crusade army for the help of Constantinople. Therefore the Orthodox population did not attend Sohpia Hagia on the occasion of Easter.
A large number of Ottoman army had reached in front of Constantinople on April 2, 1453. All doors of the City were shut down. The main barrier of the city had been pulled out and the way was closed with rocks. Bridges on the western wall ware also thrown down to stop the Ottomans from entering the city. It was again Friday, April the 6th, when Sultan Mehmed reached in front of Constantinople. From the mountain of Maltepe, the Sultan looked at the city of Constantinople. It was the same mountain once his father stood on. The mountain was out of the reach of the enemy’s attack.
The huge tombs of Hagia Sophia were also visible from this mountain. The Ottoman soldiers were whispering about getting the huge treasurer hidden in the basement of Hagia Sophia But attention of Sultan Mehmed was focused on knowing the defence measures of the enemy. The Sultan got his camp placed before the western wall of the city. At this very place his father had encamped himself 21 years ago. The wall near Romulus Gate that his father Murad II had bombarded, also stood in front of this mountain. Most of the wall had broken and the impoverished Constantinople could not restore it.
It was the internal wall while the external wall was still intact. The Ottomans had no check on entering the City, if their guns would smash the external wall. With this mind, the Sultan had his camp on this mountain to personally supervise this important task. The best soldiers, the janissaries, archers and the horsemen were also present at this central position. They all had surrounded the Maltepe mountain. A trench was dug and fenced in front the Sultan’s camp that was fortified with shields.
The Super Gun was to be installed in front of Sultan’s camp but the Gun did not reach as yet. The Gun was so heavy that its pullers lagged behind on the way. Even a few of the light guns had so far reached the Ottomans’ site. The Anatolian infantry and that from the vassal states was deployed right and left of the Sultan’s camp. Now the Red Apple was in front of Sultan Mehmed. Sultan and his army were confident to get it. In the meanwhile, a ship from Venice brought such a news that disconcerted the Ottoman army.
What was that new? Who broke the walls of Constantinople when the Super Gun also failed? A rival told the Ottoman a remedy to conquer the city. What was that? The next episode will carry the complete story on the conquest of Constantinople. Please write your comments on the factors behind the 1000 years of the Romans’ rule in Constantinople. You have learnt about the Ottoman attack on Constantinople. If you have any question regarding it put it on.
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