Physicists explain controversial finding of faster-than-light particles

By Robert T. Gonzalez

Physicists explain controversial finding of faster-than-light particles

Physicists explain controversial finding of faster-than-light particles Yesterday, CERN physicists shocked the world with news of a scientific finding that could revolutionize the field of physics. The researchers claim to have observed what many had believed to be impossible: subatomic particles called neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light. This morning, lead researcher Dario Autiero addressed a standing-room-only auditorium in Geneva to explain the team’s findings. Here’s what happened. Featured up top is an interview with Autiero and OPERA spokesperson Antonio Ereditato, released by CERN just a few hours ago. Autiero hosted a seminar at CERN this morning to formally present the OPERA Collaboration’s puzzling faster-than-light results. The physicist provided this morning’s sizable audience with an in-depth overview of the facilities that were used to generate, detect, and observe the neutrinos, and the OPERA research team’s extensive collaboration with CERN metrologists (experts in the study of measurement) in verifying its results. In a separate announcement, CERN’s research director, Sergio Bertolucci, called attention to the reasoning behind the OPERA research team’s decision to release their findings, noting that “when an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artifact of the measurement to account for it, it is normal to invite broader scrutiny…it is good scientific practice.” High systematic accuracy, good statistics, and the rigorous nature of the involved facilities’ calibration and cross-check methods were recurring themes throughout the presentation, and for good reason. The measurements obtained by the OPERA Collaboration conflict with one of the most well-established and unifying scientific paradigms of the last century. This morning’s seminar acknowledged the gravity of the announcement by making it explicitly clear that the OPERA Collaboration has, in fact, gone to great lengths to confirm the accuracy of its findings. “Therefore we present to you today this discrepancy, this anomaly,” concluded Autiero. Several members of the audience, which included some of the world’s foremost particle physicists, commended the OPERA researchers on the comprehensiveness of their research efforts. “I want to congratulate you on a beautiful experiment,” said Samuel C.C. Ting, a Nobel Prize-winning particle physicist from MIT. “The experiment is very carefully done, the systematic error very carefully checked.” And while the researchers’ results have been well-received thus far, the scrutiny of the team’s findings is only just beginning. Fermilab scientists here in the States will soon re-analyze the OPERA team’s data in a process that should take six to eight months, at which point further investigations will almost certainly follow. Autiero, for one, welcomes the waves of reassessment, re-experimentation, and re-analysis still to come: Although our measurements have low systematic uncertainty and high statistical accuracy, and we place great confidence in our results, we’re looking forward to comparing them with those from other experiments. You can read the research paper detailing the OPERA Collaboration’s findings via ArXiv. You can watch a recorded version of this morning’s seminar here. Images via CERN Document Server Interview via CERN video productions Top image by robodread via Shutterstock

The Greatest Mysteries of Uranus

The Greatest Mysteries of Uranus

By Adam Hadhazy, Life’s Little Mysteries Contributor
12 August 2011 12:52 PM ET

Uranus’ tilt essentially has the planet orbiting the Sun on its side, the axis of its spin is nearly pointing at the Sun. CREDIT: NASA and Erich Karkoschka, U. of Arizona

Each week, Life’s Little Mysteries presents The Greatest Mysteries of the Cosmos, starting with our solar system.

More than a billion and a half miles away from Earth looms a huge, cyan-colored world pegged with a perilous name: Uranus. (For the record, modern astronomers tend to pronounce the planet’s name as “YUR-inn-us” rather than the giggle-inducing alternative.)

Along with Neptune, Uranus is considered an “ice giant,” a class of planets distinct from the much-larger gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. Although hydrogen and helium gas make up much of Uranus, significant quantities of water, methane and ammonia “ices” give the planet a different color and chemistry. Size-wise, Uranus’ radius is four times that of Earth’s, and about 16 Earths could fit inside the ice giant’s sphere.

Humankind hasn’t had a close look at Uranus since the Voyager 2 probe scoped it out back in 1986, and for now, a return mission is not in the offing. Until we get back out there, some major mysteries will continue to vex, including:

Why the sideways spin?

In terms of their rotation, the planets and the Sun can be thought of as spinning tops placed on a table – they all whirl about on an axis more or less in the same plane.

Except for Uranus. It has an axial tilt of about 98 degrees, meaning its “north” and “south” poles are instead found where Earth’s equator runs. The planet looks, quite simply, as though it has been knocked over onto its side. [Amazing Views of Uranus Thrill Skywatchers]

What could have done this? Barring any likelier alternatives, scientists wager that an Earth-size body collided with Uranus early in the solar system’s history and toppled the world.

“An impact is the only mechanism we can think of to do that,” said Mark Hofstadter, a senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Calif.

The fact that Uranus’ 13 rings and couple dozen-plus moons are upended as well, encircling the planet like circles in a bullseye from our perspective, lends credence to this theory. “Perhaps before the satellites formed or finished forming, everything got tilted over,” said Hofstadter.

Learning more about Uranus’ interior, which unlike other planets does not fit any simple models, and comparing it to its sister world Neptune would help. “There might be some compositional evidence or just interior structure evidence that tells us that, ‘Okay, this thing suffered a giant impact,'” Hofstadter told Life’s Little Mysteries.

Uranus keeps its cool

The planet Uranus, seventh planet from the sun, is a giant ball of gas and liquid and was the first planet discovered with a telescope.

Puzzlingly, Uranus radiates little or no heat into space, another thing that makes it unique among our solar system’s planets. Planets are expected to have heat leftover inside them from their formation process; Earth’s interior, for example, remains hotly molten. [How Hot Is Hell?]

That same planetary punch that sent Uranus sideways could also explain its apparent lack of internal heat. If something giant hit Uranus, that impact could have stirred up its interior, Hofstader said. “That helped bring hot material that was deep down near to the surface, and so helped Uranus cool more rapidly.”

A second idea is that normal heat flow from a warm interior to a cooler surface, called convection, is not working correctly. “We hope if we learn more about Uranus’ interior structure we’ll see a region where convection is inhibited,” said Hofstadter. “Or, if we can tell the interior is really hot, we’ll know that energy is trapped in there and not making it out.”

Where was Uranus born?

Recent models of how the solar system’s outer planets formed and have since evolved suggest that Saturn and the two ice giants were once scrunched in much closer to Jupiter. [What If Solar System Formed Closer to the Milky Way’s Edge?]

Not long after the solar system formed, the cumulative gravitational interactions of small planetesimals whizzing around began moving Saturn, Uranus and Neptune farther away – dramatically so in the ice giants’ case. “They might have doubled or tripled their distance from the Sun,” said Hofstadter.

In turn, this shift in the solar system’s mass cleared out most of the remaining debris from the solar system’s genesis. A good many icy bodies were probably hurled in toward Earth and the inner planets during this “Late Heavy Bombardment,” starting 4.1 billion years ago. Water and organic material was deposited on our planet, perhaps critical for setting the stage for the development of life.

Better computer simulations with more data should help nail down this “Nice model,” named after the city in France. Uncovering Uranus’ history and how it has influenced our planet speaks to the possibility of life in other solar systems: According to early data from NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, ice giants might be the most common kind of planet in the galaxy, Hofstadter said. [Uranus, Seventh Planet in Earth’s Solar System, Was First Discovered Planet]

Bonus boggler: Miranda – a cliff diver’s dream

Compared to the variety of moons circling Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus’ 27-strong complement of satellites is less exotic. But one moon called Miranda stands out for possessing one of the gnarliest surfaces of any known astronomical body. This small moon has deep canyons, scrapes, terraced layers and a cliff some 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) deep – the deepest known in the solar system.

One theory behind Miranda’s geological mess suggests that flowing ices in the moon’s interior, perhaps heated by gravitational squeezing from Uranus and other moons, pushed through onto the surface. Another holds that the moon was shattered several times and came back together, creating its jagged and mottled features.

Although the former theory is more en vogue currently, “I think that both have to be on the table at this point,” Hofstadter said.

Battle of Nicopolis


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and others

The Battle of Nicopolis (Bulgarian: Битка при Никопол, Bitka pri Nikopol;TurkishNiğbolu SavaşıHungariannikápolyi csataRomanianBătălia de la Nicopole) took place on 25 September 1396, between the Ottoman Empireversus an allied force from the Kingdom of HungaryFrance, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Republic of Venice, as well as smaller contingents and individuals from elsewhere in Europe, near the Danubian fortress of Nicopolis, in modern Bulgaria. It is often referred to as the Crusade of Nicopolis and was the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages.

Battle of Nicopolis
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
Ottoman–Hungarian Wars
File:Nicopol final battle 1398.jpg
Battle of Nicopolis
(Note the counterfactual depiction of siege weapons)
Date September 25, 1396
Location NicopolisBulgaria
43°42′21″N 24°53′45″E
Result Decisive Ottoman victory
 Ottoman Empire
Grb Lazarevic.png Moravian Serbia
Early modern France Kingdom of France
Sovereign Military Order of Malta Knights Hospitaller
Coat of Arms of Hungary.svg Kingdom of Hungary
Armoiries Wallaquie XIV.png Wallachia
 Republic of Venice
Coat of Arms of the Emperor of Bulgaria (by Conrad Grünenberg).png Second Bulgarian Empire,
contingents from German princes of the Holy Roman Empire[1]
units from Poland,BohemiaNavarreand Spain
Commanders and leaders
Bayezid I
Stefan Lazarević
Stibor of Stiboricz
Philip, Count of Eu (P.O.W.)
Jean Le Maingre (P.O.W.)
John the Fearless (P.O.W.)
Enguerrand VII (P.O.W.)
Jean de Vienne †
Jean de Carrouges
Mircea the Elder
Stephen II Lacković
Heavily disputed but credibly estimated at perhaps 12,000-15,000. See the Strength of forces section. Heavily disputed but credibly estimated at perhaps 7,500-16,000. See theStrength of forcessection.
Casualties and losses
Heavy casualties, especially during the initial phase of the battle; Ottoman casualties include the massacre of ~1000 civilian hostages by the Crusaders the night before the battle. Most of the Crusader army was destroyed or captured; a small portion, including Sigismund, escaped.
300-3,000 prisoners were executed.


There were many minor crusades in the 14th century, undertaken by individual kings or knights. Most recently there had been a failed crusade against Tunisia in 1390, and there was ongoing warfare in northern Europealong the Baltic coast. After their victory at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Ottomans had conquered most of the Balkans, and had reduced theByzantine Empire to the area immediately surrounding Constantinople, whichthey later proceeded to besiege (in 1390, 1395, 1397, 1400, 1422 and finally conquering the Byzantine capital in 1453).

battle of nicopolis

In 1393 the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Shishman had lost Nicopolis — his temporary capital — to the Ottomans,

Ivan Shishman
Tsar (Emperor) of Bulgaria

Engraving of Ivan Shishman as a child from theTetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander
Reign 17 February 1371 – 3 June 1395
Predecessor Ivan Alexander
Successor Ivan Sratsimir
Consort Kira Maria
Dragana of Serbia
Offspring see below
Royal House Shishman
Father Ivan Alexander
Mother Sarah-Theodora

while his brother, Ivan Stratsimir,

Ivan Sratsimir
A portrait of Ivan Sratsimir from a contemporary manuscript.
Еmperor of Bulgaria
Reign 1356–1396
Predecessor Ivan Alexander
Successor Constantine II
Spouse Anna of Wallachia
Dorothea, Queen of Bosnia
Constantine II of Bulgaria
House Shishman
Father Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria
Mother Theodora of Wallachia
Born Lovech
Died 1397

still held Vidinbut had been reduced to an Ottoman vassal. In the eyes of the Bulgarianboyars, despots and other independent Balkan rulers, this was a great chance to reverse the course of the Ottoman conquest and free the Balkans from Islamic rule. In addition, the frontline between Islam and Christianity had been moving slowly towards the Kingdom of Hungary. The Kingdom of Hungary was now the frontier between the two religions in Eastern Europe, and the Hungarians were in danger of being attacked themselves. TheRepublic of Venice feared that an Ottoman control of the Balkan peninsula, which included Venetian territories like parts of Morea and Dalmatia, would reduce their influence over the Adriatic SeaIonian Sea and Aegean Sea. TheRepublic of Genoa, on the other hand, feared that if the Ottomans would gain control over River Danube and the Turkish Straits, they would eventually obtain a monopoly over the trade routes between Europe and the Black Sea, where the Genoese had many important colonies like CaffaSinop andAmasra. The Genoese also owned the citadel of Galata, located at the north of the Golden Horn in Constantinople, to which Bayezid had laid siege in 1395.

battle of nicopolis

In 1394, Pope Boniface IX proclaimed a new crusade against the Turks, although the Western Schism had split the papacy in two, with rival popes atAvignon and Rome, and the days when a pope had the authority to call a crusade were long past.

Boniface IX 


Papacy began 2 November 1389
Papacy ended 1 October 1404
Predecessor Urban VI
Successor Innocent VII
Consecration 9 November, 1389
Created Cardinal 21 December, 1381
Personal details
Birth name Piero Tomacelli
Born c. 1350
NaplesKingdom of Naples
Died 1 October 1404
RomePapal States
Other Popes named Boniface
Papal styles of
Pope Boniface IX
C o a Bonifacio IX.svg
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

The two decisive factors in the formation of the last crusade were the ongoingHundred Years’ War between Richard II‘s England

Richard II
File:Richard II King of England.jpg 

Portrait at Westminster Abbey, mid-1390s

King of England (more…)
Reign 21 June 1377 – 30 September 1399
Coronation 16 July 1377
Predecessor Edward III
Successor Henry IV
Regent John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (de facto)
Consort Anne of Bohemia
m. 1382; dec. 1394
Isabella of Valois
m. 1396; wid. 1400
House House of Plantagenet
Father Edward, the Black Prince
Mother Joan of Kent
Born 6 January 1367
BordeauxPrincipality of Aquitaine
Died c. 14 February 1400 (aged 33)
Pontefract CastleWest Yorkshire
Burial Westminster Abbey, London

and Charles VI‘s France

Charles VI the Mad
File:Carlo VI di Francia, Maestro di Boucicaut, codice Ms. Français 165 della Biblioteca Universitaria di Ginevra.jpg 

Charles VI of France by the painter
known as the Master of Boucicaut (1412).

King of France
Reign 16 September 1380 – 21 October 1422
Coronation 4 November 1380
Predecessor Charles V
Successor Charles VII
Spouse Isabeau of Bavaria
Isabella, Queen of England
Joan, Duchess of Brittany
Louis, Dauphin of Viennois
John, Dauphin of Viennois
Marie, Prioress of Poissy
Michelle, Duchess of Burgundy
Catherine, Queen of England
Charles VII of France
Father Charles V of France
Mother Joan of Bourbon
Born 3 December 1368
Paris, France
Died 21 October 1422 (aged 53)
Paris, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica

and the support of Philip IIDuke of Burgundy.

Philip the Bold
File:Philip II duke of burgundy.jpgDuke of Burgundy
Reign 1363 – 27 April 1404
Predecessor John the Good
Successor John the Fearless
Spouse Margaret III, Countess of Flanders
John the Fearless
Margaret of Burgundy
Anthony, Duke of Brabant
Philip II, Count of Nevers
House Valois of Burgundy
Father John II of France
Mother Bonne of Bohemia
Born 15 January 1342
Died 27 April 1404 (aged 62)

In 1389, the war had ground to one of its periodic truces. Further, in March 1395, Richard II proposed a marriage between himself and Charles VI’s daughter Isabella in the interests of peace and the two kings met in October 1396 on the borders of Calais to agree to the union and agree to lengthen the Truce of Leulinghem.

Isabella of Valois
File:Marriage of Isabella and Richard II.jpgQueen consort of England
Tenure 1 November 1396 – 30 September 1399
Coronation 8 January 1397
Spouse Richard II of England
Charles, Duke of Orléans
Joan of Valois, Duchess of Alençon
House House of Valois
Father Charles VI of France
Mother Isabella of Bavaria
Born 9 November 1389
Paris, France
Died 13 September 1409 (aged 19)
BloisLoir-et-Cher, France

The support of Burgundy, among the most powerful of the French nobles was also vital. In 1391, Burgundy, trying to decide between sending a crusade to either Prussia or Hungary, sent his envoy Guy de La Trémoille to Venice and Hungary to evaluate the situation. Burgundy originally envisioned a crusade led by himself and the Dukes of Orléans

Louis I
File:Louis Ier d'Orléans.jpgDuke of Orléans
Reign 1392–1407
Successor Charles
Spouse Valentina Visconti
Charles, Duke of Orléans
John, Count of Angoulême
Philip, Count of Vertus
Margaret, Countess of Vertus
House House of Valois
Father Charles V of France
Mother Joanna of Bourbon
Born 13 March 1372
Died 23 November 1407 (aged 35)
Paris, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica, France

and Lancaster,

John of Gaunt
File:Johnofgaunt.jpgDuke of LancasterDuke of Aquitaine
Successor Henry Bolingbroke
Spouse Blanche of Lancaster
m. 1359; dec. 1369
Infanta Constance of Castile
m. 1371; dec. 1394
Katherine Swynford
m. 1396; wid. 1399
Philippa, Queen of Portugal
Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter
Henry IV of England
Catherine, Queen of Castile
John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset
Cardinal Henry Beaufort
Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter
Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland
House House of Plantagenet (by birth)
House of Lancaster (founder)
Father Edward III of Windsor, King of England
Mother Philippa of Hainault
Born 6 March 1340
Died 3 February 1399 (aged 58)
Leicester CastleLeicestershire
Burial St Paul’s CathedralCity of London

though none would join the eventual crusade. It was very unlikely that defense against the Turks was considered a particularly important goal of the crusade. Burgundy’s interest in sponsoring the crusade was in increasing his and his house’s prestige and power and, historian Barbara Tuchman notes, “since he was the prince of self-magnification, the result was that opulent display became the dominant theme; plans, logistics, intelligence about the enemy came second, if at all.

Barbara W. Tuchman
Born January 30, 1912
New York City
Died February 6, 1989 (aged 77)
Greenwich, Connecticut
Occupation Writer, journalist, historian
Nationality American
Period Middle AgesRenaissance,American Revolution, 1900, World War I
Genres Historical
Spouse(s) Dr Lester R. Tuchman
(b. 1904, d. 1997)
Children Three daughters
Relative(s) Maurice Wertheim (father)
Henry Morgenthau Sr.
(maternal grandfather)
Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
(maternal uncle)
Robert M. Morgenthau (cousin)

” In 1394, Burgundy extracted 120,000 livres fromFlanders, sufficient to begin preparations for a crusade, and in January 1395 sent word to Sigismund, the King of Hungary that an official request to the King of France would be accepted. (Sigismund became Holy Roman Emperor in 1433).

battle of nicopolis

In August, Sigismund’s delegation of four knights and a bishop arrived in the court of Paris to paint a description of how “40,000″ Turks were despoiling and imperiling Christian lands and beg, on Sigismund of Hungary’s behalf, for help. Charles VI, having secured a peace with England through the marriage of his daughter, was able to reply that “as chief of the Christian kings” it was his responsibility to protect Christianity and punish Sultan Bayezid.

Osmanli-nisani.svg    Bayezid I
Ottoman Sultan
Tughra of Bayezid I.JPG
Reign 1389–1402
Period Rise of the Ottoman Empire
Predecessor Murad I
Successor Interregnum
Royal House House of Osman
Dynasty Ottoman Dynasty

French nobility responded enthusiastically to the declaration; Philip of Artois, Count of Eu, the Constable of France, and Jean Le Maingre, the Marshal of France, declared participation in the crusade the duty of every “man of valor”.

battle of nicopolis

Strength of forces

The number of combatants is heavily contested in historical accounts. Historian Tuchman notes, “Chroniclers habitually matched numbers to the awesomeness of the event,” and the Battle of Nicopolis was considered so significant that the number of combatants given by medieval chroniclers ranges as high as 400,000, with each side insisting that the enemy outnumbered them two-to-one, which for the crusaders offered some solace for their defeat and for the Turks increased the glory of their victory. The oft-given figure of 100,000 crusaders is dismissed by Tuchman, who notes that 100,000 men would have taken a month to cross the Danube at Iron Gate, while the crusaders took eight days.

battle of nicopolis

The closest record to a first-person account was made by Johann Schiltberger, a German follower of a Bavarian noble, who witnessed the battle at the age of 16 and was captured and enslaved for 30 years by the Turks before returning home, at which time he wrote a narrative of the battle estimating the crusader strength at the final battle at 16,000, though he also estimated Turkish forces as a wildly inflated 200,000. German historians of the 19th century attempting to estimate the combatants on each side came to the figures of about 7,500-9000 Christians and about 12,000-20,000 Turks, while noting that, from the point of logistics, it would have been impossible for the countryside around Nicopolis to have supplied food and fodder for scores of thousands of men and horses.(Medieval armies acquired supplies by taking them from the surrounding area as they marched, as opposed to using the supply lines of modern armies.)

battle of nicopolis

From France, it was said about 2,000 knights and squires joined, and were accompanied by 6,000 archers and foot soldiers drawn from the best volunteer and mercenary companies. Next in importance were the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes, who were the standard bearers of Christianity in the Levant since the decline of Constantinople and CyprusVenice supplied a naval fleet for supporting action, while Hungarian envoys encouraged German princes of the RhinelandBavariaSaxony and other parts of the empire to join. French heralds had proclaimed the crusade in PolandBohemiaNavarre and Spain, from which individuals came to join.

battle of nicopolis

Composition of crusader forces

The Italian city-states were too much engaged in their customary violent rivalries to participate, and the widely reported and acclaimed English participation never actually occurred. The report of 1000 English knights comes from contemporary Antonio Fiorentino, and was taken as fact by historian Aziz S. Atiya and others following him. A thousand knights would have actually amounted to “four to six thousand men and at least twice as many horses”, counting foot-soldiers and other retainers. However, there are no records of financial arrangements being made in England to send a force abroad, nor of any royal preparation needed to organize and dispatch such a force. Reports of Henry of Bolingbroke or other “son of the Duke of Lancaster” leading an English contingent must be false since the presence of Henry and every other such son, as well as almost every other significant noble in the land, is recorded at the king’s wedding five months after the crusade’s departure.

Henry IV
File:King Henry IV from NPG (2).jpg 

16th-century painting of Henry IV

King of England (more…)
Reign 30 September 1399 – 20 March 1413
Coronation 13 October 1399
Predecessor Richard II
Successor Henry V
Spouse Mary de Bohun
Joan of Navarre
Henry V of England
Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence
John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford
Humphrey, 1st Duke of Gloucester
Blanche, Electress Palatine
Philippa, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden
House House of Lancaster
Father John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Mother Blanche of Lancaster
Born 3 April 1366[1][2]
Bolingbroke Castle, Lincolnshire
Died 20 March 1413[1][2] (aged 46)
Westminster, London
Burial Canterbury Cathedral, Kent

Atiya also thought that the invocation of St. George as a war cry at Nicopolis signified the presence of English soldiers, for whom George was a patron saint; but Froissart,


Froissart’s statue in the Louvre

who mentions this, claims that the cry was made by the French knight Philippe d’Eu.Furthermore, there was no collection of ransom money in England to pay for captives, as there was in every other country that had sent men to the battle. Sporadic mention in contemporary accounts of the presence of “English” may be attributed to Knights Hospitaller of the English tongue subgrouping, who joined their comrades for the crusade after leaving Rhodes (where the Hospitallers were based at the time) and sailing up the Danube. Possible reasons for the English absence include the increasing tension between the king and the Duke of Gloucester, which may have convinced the two that they had best keep their supporters close, and the antipathy caused by the long war between the English and French, resulting in the English refusing to consider putting themselves under a French-led crusade, regardless of the recently concluded peace.

battle of nicopolis

Nevertheless, obviously inflated figures continue to be repeated. These include 6-8,000 Hungarians, ~ 10,000 French, English and Burgundian troops, ~ 10,000 Wallachians, ~ 6,000 Germans and nearly 15,000 Dutch, Bohemian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Bulgarian, Scottish and Swiss troops on the land, with the naval support of Venice, Genoa and the Knights of St. John. These result in a figure of about 47,000 – 49,000 in total; possibly up to 120,000 or 130,000 according to numerous sources, including the 15th century Ottoman historian Şükrullah who gives the figure of the Crusader army as 130,000 in his Behçetu’t-Tevârih.

battle of nicopolis

Composition of Turkish forces

Also estimated at about 20-25,000; but inflated figures continue to be repeated of up to 60,000 according to numerous sources including the 15th century Ottoman historian Şükrullah, who gives the figure of the Ottoman army as 60,000 in his Behçetu’t-Tevârih; alternately described as roughly half of the Crusader army. The Ottoman force also included 1,500 Serbian heavy cavalry knights under the command of Prince Stefan Lazarević, who was Sultan Bayezid’s vassal since the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, as well as his brother-in-law after the Sultan married Stefan’s sister, Princess Olivera Despina, the daughter of Prince Lazar of Serbia (Stefan’s father) who had perished at Kosovo.

battle of nicopolis


While Philip, Duke of Burgundy, had originally planned to lead the crusade along with John of Gaunt and Louis of Orleans, all three withdrew, claiming that the peace negotiations with England required their presence, though perhaps also because none dared leave the vicinity of the throne if their chief rivals stayed. However, Burgundy retained control of the enterprise he was funding by naming 24-year-old John de Nevers,

John the Fearless
File:John duke of burgundy.jpg
Duke of Burgundy
Reign 27 April 1404–10 September 1419
Predecessor Philip the Bold
Successor Philip the Good
Spouse Margaret of Bavaria
Mary, Duchess of Cleves
Margaret, Duchess of Brittany
Philip the Good
Isabelle, Countess of Penthièvre
Anne, Duchess of Bedford
Agnes, Duchess of Bourbon
House Valois of Burgundy
Father Philip the Bold
Mother Margaret III, Countess of Flanders
Born 28 May 1371
Dijon, France
Died 10 September 1419 (aged 48)
Montereau, France
Burial DijonBurgundy

the Duke’s eldest son, for nominal command. Burgundy, perhaps recognizing that his son, as well as Constable d’Eu and Marshal Boucicaut, who were both under 35, lacked the necessary experience, summoned Enguerrand VII, Lord of Coucy, the most experienced warrior and statesman of the realm, and prevailed on him to be “chief counselor” to Nevers during the crusade. The ambiguity of the crusaders’ command structure would prove to be crucial in the final outcome. While Nevers was given a long list of “counselors”, as well as another list of prominent French lords on the crusade with whom Nevers could consult “when it seemed good to him”, the concept of unity of command was not yet understood by medieval warriors. Rules of discipline for the crusade were decreed at a War Council on March 28, 1396, which included the final provision, “Item, that [in battle] the Count and his company claim the avante garde,” revealing that the chivalric code continued to require knights to prove their valor by leading the charge.

1st crusades

To Buda

The crusade set forth from Dijon on April 30, 1396, heading across Bavaria by way of Strasbourg to the upper Danube, from where they used river transport to join with Sigismund in Buda. From there the crusader goals, though lacking details of planning, were to expel the Turks from the Balkans and then go to the aid of Constantinople, cross the Hellespont, and march through Turkey and Syriato liberate Palestine and the Holy Sepulchre, before returning in triumph to Europe by sea. Arrangements were made for a fleet of Venetian vessels to blockade the Turks in the Sea of Marmara and for the Venetians to sail up the Danube to meet the crusaders inWallachia in July.


Map of Europe with the Danube marked

Coucy was not with the crusader body as it traveled, having been detached on a diplomatic mission to Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the Duke of Milan.


Portrait attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, reputed to be of Gian Galeazzo Visconti.

Furious at French political maneuvering that had removed Genoa from his influence, Gian Galeazzo had been attempting to stop the transfer of Genovese sovereignty to France and Coucy was dispatched to warn him that France would consider further interference a hostile act. The quarrel was more than political. Valentina Visconti,

Valentina Visconti, Duchess of Orléans
File:Fleury-François Richard - Valentine of Milan Mourning her Husband, the Duke of Orléans.JPG 

Valentine of Milan weeping for the death of her husband Louis of Orléans by Fleury-François Richard (c. 1802) Hermitage MuseumSaint Petersburg

Spouse(s) Louis de Valois, Duke of Orléans
Noble family House of Visconti
Father Giangaleazzo Visconti
Mother Isabelle of Valois
Born 1368
Died 4 December 1408

the wife of the Duke of Orleans and Gian Galeazzo’s beloved daughter, had been exiled from Paris due the machinations of Queen Isabeau the same month as the departure of the crusade.

Isabeau of Bavaria
File:Isabeau de Baviere2.jpgQueen consort of France
Tenure 1385–1422
Spouse Charles VI of France
Isabella, Queen of England
Joan, Duchess of Brittany
Marie, Prioress of Poissy
Michelle, Duchess of Burgundy
Louis, Dauphin of France
John, Dauphin of France
Catherine, Queen of England
Charles VII of France
House House of Wittelsbach
Father Stephen III, Duke of Bavaria
Mother Taddea Visconti
Born c. 1370
Died 24 September 1435 (aged 64–65)
Burial Abbey of Saint-Denis

The Duke of Milan threatened to send knights to defend his daughter’s honor but, in the wake of the disaster at Nicopolis, it was widely believed that he had relayed intelligence to Bayezid I of crusader troop movements. There is no firm evidence of this and it is likely that Gian Galeazzo became a scapegoat after the fact due the existing animosity with France, though there remains the possibility that the Duke of Milan, who had murdered his own uncle to ensure his own power, did in fact betray the crusaders. Coucy, his diplomatic mission complete and accompanied by Henry of Bar and their followers, left Milan for Venice, from where he requisitioned a ship on May 17 to take him across the Adriatic Sea, landing in the Croatian port of Senj on May 30 before making his way overland to the rendezvous in Buda.

tudor soldiers

Coucy arrived well before Nevers, who had stopped in the upper Danube for receptions and festivities thrown by German princes. Nevers did not arrive in Vienna until June 24, a full month behind the crusader vanguard led by d’Eu and Boucicaut. A fleet of 70 Venetian vessels loaded with provisions was sent down the Danube, while Nevers enjoyed yet more parties thrown by his brother in law Leopold IV, Duke of Austria. Nevers then asked his brother in law for a staggering loan of 100,000 ducats, which took time to arrange, and eventually arrived in Buda in July.

Buda to Nicopolis

Once the leaders had arrived, strategy had to be coordinated with Philibert de Naillac,


Master of the Knights Hospitaller, and representatives of the Venetian fleet. Forty-four Venetian ships had carried the Hospitallers from Rhodes through the Aegean into the Sea of Mamara, and some continued into the Black Sea and up the Danube without engaging in battle. The fact that the Turks, who had an inferior naval presence, did not challenge the Venetians for control of the sea is seen as evidence that Bayezid and the majority of his forces were already on the European side.

the middle ages knights

The War Council in Buda was immediately the forum of a fierce dispute. The previous year, Bayezid had declared that he would attack Hungary by May, yet he had not appeared by end of July. Hungarian scouts sent out as far as the Hellespont could find no sign of him, causing the French to proclaim that he was a coward. Sigismund of Hungary assured the crusaders that Bayezid would come, and advised that it would be wiser to let the Turks make the long march to them, rather than make the same long march to find them. This strategy was rejected by the French and their allies. Coucy, acting as spokesman, stated, “Though the Sultan’s boasts be lies, that should not keep us from doing deeds of arms and pursuing our enemies, for that is the purpose for which we came.” Sigismund had little choice but to acquiesce, though chroniclers also write that Coucy’s speech excited jealousy in D’Eu, who felt that he should have had the honor of spokesman due to his position as Constable of France.

The crusaders began to march down the left bank of the Danube, though part of the Hungarian army veered north to gather the forces of Transylvania and the Mircea the Elder-led forces of Wallachia. The remainder of the Hungarians brought up the rear of the crusader column. As the crusaders moved into Muslim-held territory, pillaging and mistreatment of the population reportedly grew. While crusaders had been reported to engage in periodic pillage and rapine while passing through Germany, the indiscipline of the French reportedly reached new heights when they entered “schismatic” lands. Chroniclers also waxed eloquent on the immorality and blasphemy of the crusaders, writing detailed accounts of drunkard knights lying with prostitutes for days, despite writing from at best second-hand accounts. Tuchman cautions that such chroniclers were part of a contemporary tendency to blame the defeat of the crusade on the immorality of the crusaders, and that it is impossible to verify such claims.

File:Iron Gate Danube.jpg

The crusaders took eight days to cross the Danube at the Iron Gate

At Orşova, where the Danube narrows at the Iron Gates gorge, the column crossed to the right bank using pontoons and boats over eight days.


Orșova (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈorʃova]German: Orschowa, Hungarian: Orsova, Serbian:Оршава/Oršava, Bulgarian: Орсово, Polish: Orszawa, Czech: Oršava, Turkish: Adakale) is a port city on the Danube river in southwestern Romania‘s Mehedinți County. It is one of four localities in the county located in the Banat historical region. It is situated just above theIron Gates, on the spot where the Cerna River meets the Danube

Their first target was Vidin, previously an important town of western Bulgaria and then under Turkish control. The prince of Vidin, having no desire to fight for his Turkish conquerors against an overwhelming force of crusaders, promptly surrendered. The only bloodshed was the execution of Turkish officers in the defending garrison, though the incident served to further convince the French that Turks were incapable of challenging the crusaders in the field.

The next target was Oryahovo (Rachowa), a strong fortress located 75 miles from Vidin.


Oryahovo,(at Present) a town on the Bulgarian bank of the Danube,Oryahovo (Bulgarian: Оряхово) is a port city in northwestern Bulgaria, part of Vratsa Province. It is located in a hilly country on the right bank of the Danube, just east of the mouth of the river Ogosta, a few more kilometres downstream from where the Jiu flows into the Danube on Romanian territory. The town is known for the ferry service that connects it to the Romanian town of Bechet across the river. There are also plans by local private companies for a bridge across the Danube. As of December 2009, Oryahovo has a population of 5,400 inhabitants

Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to show their bravery in deeds of arms, the French carried out a forced march at night to reach the castle before their allies, arriving in the morning just as the Turkish forces had come out to destroy the bridge across the moat. In fierce combat the French secured the bridge but were unable to push forward until Sigismund arrived. The forces combined and managed to reach the walls before night forced the combatants to retire. The next morning the inhabitants of Oryahovo agreed to surrender to Sigismund on the assurance that their lives and property would be spared. The French promptly broke Sigismund’s agreement, pillaging and massacring the town after the gates were open, and later claiming that they had taken the town by conquest because their men-at-arms had topped the walls the night before. A thousand residents, both Turkish and Bulgarian, were taken hostage and the town set ablaze. The Hungarians took the French action as a grave insult to their king, while the French accused the Hungarians of trying to rob them of the glory of victory through combat.

Leaving a garrison to hold Oryahovo, the crusaders continued towards Nicopolis, assaulting one or two forts or settlements along the way, but bypassing one citadel from which messengers escaped to inform Bayezid of the Christian army. On September 12, the crusaders came within view of the fortress of Nicopolis on its limestone cliff.

Siege of Nicopolis

File:Nikápolyi csata.JPG

Titus Fay saves King Sigismund of Hungary in the Battle of Nicopolis. Painting in the Castle of Vaja, creation of Ferenc Lohr, 1896.

Nicopolis, located in a natural defensive position, was a key stronghold controlling the lower Danube and lines of communication to the interior. A small road ran between the cliff and river, while the fortress was actually two walled towns, the larger one on the heights on the cliff and the smaller below. Further inland from the fortified walls, the cliff sloped steeply down to the plain. Well-defended and well-supplied, the Turkish governor of Nicopolis, Doğan Bey, was certain that Bayezid would have to come to the aid of the town and was prepared to endure a long siege.

The crusaders had brought no siege machines with them, but Boucicaut optimistically stated that ladders were easily made and worth more than catapults when used by courageous men. However, the lack of siege weapons, the steep slope up to the walls and the formidable fortifications made taking the castle by force impossible. The crusaders set up positions around the town to block the exits, and with the naval blockade of the river, settled in for a siege to starve out the defenders. Nevertheless they were convinced that the siege of the fortress would be a mere prelude to a major thrust into relieving Constantinople and did not believe that Bayezid I would arrive so speedily to give them a real battle.

Two weeks passed as the bored crusaders entertained themselves with feasts, games and insulting the martial prowess of their enemy. Whether through drunkenness or carelessness, the crusaders posted no sentries, though foragers venturing away from the camps brought word of the Turks’ approach. Bayezid was at this time already through Adrianople and on a forced march through theShipka Pass to Tirnovo. His ally Stefan Lazarević of Serbia joined him on the way.

Stefan Lazarević
Despot of Serbia
File:Stefan Lazarevic.jpg 

Fresco of Stefan Lazarević from Manasijamonastery


Reign Knez (1389–1402)
Despot (1402–1427)
Born 1374
Birthplace Kruševac
Died 1427
Place of death Glava
Buried Manasija Monastery
Predecessor Lazar of Serbia
Successor Đurađ Branković
Royal House House of Lazarević Grb Lazarevic.jpg
Father Lazar of Serbia
Mother Princess Milica of Serbia

Sigismund had sent 500 horsemen to carry out reconnaissance in force around Tirnovo, 70 miles to the north, and they brought word back that the Turks were indeed coming. Word also reached the besieged inhabitants of Nicopolis, who blew horns and cheered. Boucicaut claimed the noise of their celebration was a ruse as he believed that the Sultan would never attack; he further threatened to cut off the ears of anyone who discussed rumors of the Turks’ approach as being damaging to the morale of the crusaders.

One of the few to concern himself with scouting the situation was Coucy, who took a group of 500 knights and 500 mounted archers south. Learning of a large group of Turks approaching through a nearby pass, he separated 200 horsemen to carry out a feint retreat, drawing the pursuing Turks into an ambush where the rest of his men, waiting concealed, attacked their rear. Giving no quarter, Coucy’s men killed as many as they could and returned to the camp where his action shook the camp from its lethargy and drew the admiration of the other crusaders. Tuchman argues that it also increased the overconfidence of the French and again drew the jealousy of D’Eu, who accused Coucy of risking the army out of recklessness and attempting to steal glory and authority from Nevers.

Sigismund called a war council on the 24th, in which he suggested a battle plan in which the Wallachian foot soldiers would be sent forward to meet the Turk vanguard, which was usually a poorly armed militia normally used for pillage but was used in battles to tire opponents before they met better quality Turkish forces. Sigismund claimed that this vanguard was not worthy of the attention of knights. Once the shock of first clash had past, Sigismund proposed that the French form the front line to rush in, while the Hungarians and the other allies followed to support the attack and keep the sipahis (Turkish cavalry) from sweeping around the crusaders’ flanks.

File:Walka o sztandar turecki.jpg

Ottoman Sipahi’s in battle holding the Crescent Banner (by Józef Brandt).

File:Battle of Vienna.Sipahis.jpg

Sipahis at the Battle of Vienna, 1683

D’Eu denounced the proposal as a demeaning to the knights, who would beforced to follow peasant footmen into battle. He reportedly stated, “To take up the rear is to dishonor us, and expose us to the contempt of all” and declared that he would claim front place as Constable and anyone in front of him would do him mortal insult. In this he was supported by Boucicaut; Nevers, reassured by the confidence of the younger French lords, was easily convinced.


Ottoman Horse Archer

With the French set on a charge, Sigismund left to make a battle plan for his own forces. Apparently within hours, he sent word to the camp that Bayezid was only six hours away. The crusaders, said to be drunk over dinner, reacted in confusion – some refusing to believe the report, some rising in panic, and some hastily preparing for battle. At this point, supposedly because of a lack of spare guards, the prisoners taken at Rachowa were massacred. Even European chroniclers would later dub this an act of “barbarism”.

The battle

 File:Battle of Nicopole battle map 1396.jpg

Battle Map

At daybreak on September 25, the combatants began to organize themselves under the banners of their leaders. At this point, Sigismund sent his Grand Marshal to Nevers to report that his scouts had sighted the Turkish vanguard and asked for the offensive to be postponed for two hours, when his scouts would have returned with intelligence as to the numbers and disposition of the enemy. Nevers summoned a hasty council of advisors, in which Coucy and Jean de Vienneadmiral of France and the eldest French knight on the crusade, advised obeying the wishes of the Hungarian king, which seemed wise to them. At this, D’Eu declared that Sigismund simply wished to hoard the battle honors for himself and declared his willingness to lead the charge. Coucy, who declared D’Eu’s words to be a “presumption,” asked for the council of Vienne, who noted, “When truth and reason cannot be heard, then must rule presumption. Vienne commented that if D’Eu wished to advance, the army must follow, but that it would be wiser to advance in concert with the Hungarians and other allies. D’Eu rejected any wait and the council fell into a fierce dispute, with the younger hawks charging that the elder knights were not prudent, but fearful. The argument seems to have been settled when D’Eu decided to advance.

File:Ralamb Sipahi.jpg

Timarli Sipahi

D’Eu took control of the vanguard of the French knights, while Nevers and Coucy commanded the main body. The French knights, accompanied by their mounted archers, rode out with their backs to Nicopolis to meet the Turks, who were descending the hills to the south. The Knights Hospitaler, Germans and other allies stayed with the Hungarian forces under Sigismund. The subsequent events are obscured by conflicting accounts. Tuchman notes, “Out of the welter of different versions, a coherent account of the movements and fortunes of the battlefield is not to be had; there is only a tossing kaleidoscope.

 File:Bataille de Nicopolis (Archives B.N.) 1.jpg

Depiction of the French charge. Note the nearly innumerable combatants.

The French charge crushed the untrained conscripts in the Turkish front line and advanced into the lines of trained infantry, though the knights came under heavy fire from archers and were hampered by rows of sharpened stakes designed to skewer the stomachs of their horses. Chroniclers write of horses impaled on stakes, riders dismounting, stakes being pulled up to allow horses through, and the eventual rout of the Turkish infantry, who fled behind the relative safety of the sipahis. Coucy and Vienne recommended that the French pause to reform their ranks, give themselves some rest and allow the Hungarians time to advance to a position where they could support the French. They were overruled by the younger knights who, having no idea of the size of the Turkish force, believed that they had just defeated Bayezid’s entire army and insisted on pursuit.

File:Ottoman Mamluk horseman circa 1550.jpg

Ottoman cavalry armour circa 1550

The French knights thus continued up the hill, though accounts state that more than half were on foot by this point, either because they had been unhorsed by the lines of sharpened stakes or had dismounted to pull up stakes. Struggling in their heavy armor, they reached the plateau on the top of the slope, where they had expected to find fleeing Turkish forces, but instead found themselves facing a fresh corps of sipahis, whom Bayezid had kept in reserve. As the sipahis surged forward in the counterattack sounding trumpets, banging kettle drums and yelling “God is great!”, the desperation of their situation was readily apparent to the French and some knights broke and fled back down the slope.

File:Early timpani and trumpet.jpg

In the 15th century, timpani were used with trumpets as ceremonial instruments in the cavalry.


A Sipahi, from a 16th-century Western engraving

The rest fought on “no frothing boar nor enraged wolf more fiercely,” in the words of one contemporary chronicler. Admiral de Vienne, to whom was granted the honor as the eldest knight of carrying the French standard into battle, was wounded many times as he attempted to rally the morale of his countrymen, before being struck down dead. Other notable knights who were slain include Jean de CarrougesPhilippe de Bar and Odard de Chasseron. The Turks threatened to overwhelm Nevers and his bodyguard threw themselves to the ground in silent submission to plead for the life of their liege lord. Notwithstanding the declaration of jihad, the Turks were as interested in the riches that could be gained by ransoming noble captives as anyone else, and took Nevers prisoner. Seeing Nevers taken, the rest of the French yielded.


1540 depiction of the battle

The timeline of events is hazy, but it appears that as the French were advancing up the slope, sipahis were sweeping down along the flanks in an envelopment. Accounts tell of the Hungarians and other nationalities in confused combat on the plain and of a stampede of riderless horses, which Tuchman speculates pulled free from their tethers, at the sight of which the Transylvanians and the Wallachians concluded that the day was lost and abandoned the field. Sigismund, the Master of Rhodes, and the Germans fought to prevent the envelopment with “unspeakable massacre” on both sides. At this point, a reinforcement of 1,500 Serbian knights under the command of Stefan Lazarević proved critical. Sigismund’s force was overwhelmed. Convinced to flee, Sigismund and the Master managed to escape by fisherman’s boat to the Venetian ships in the Danube.Hermann,

Hermann II, Count of Celje
Hermann II, Count of Celje
Spouse(s) Countess Anna of Schaunberg
Father Hermann I, Count of Celje
Mother Katherine of Bosnia
Born c. 1365
Died October 13, 1435

a soldier in Sigismund’s army led the force that allowed the escape and was later rewarded by being named a count. Bayezid and his ally Stefan Lazarevic recognized the Nikola II Gorjanski, Lazarevic’s brother-in-law, fighting on Sigismund’s side. A deal was made, and Sigismund’s army surrendered, completing their defeat in detail.

File:Battle with Turks at Nikopol.PNG

Herman II (rider on the left) saves emperor Sigismund from turkish capture


 File:Battle of Nicopol aftermath Thr masacreofthecristians revenge for rahova massacre.jpg

The execution of the prisoners in retaliation for the Rahovo massacre of Ottoman prisoners

Sigismund would later state to the Hospitaller Master, “We lost the day by the pride and vanity of these French. If they believed my advice, we had enough men to fight our enemies.” Chronicler Jean Froissart would declare. “Since the Battle of Roncesvalles when [all] twelve peers of France were slain, Christendom received not so great a damage.”

Captives and ransom

Bayezid toured the battlefield later that day, hoping to find the corpse of the King of Hungary, and “torn by grief” at his losses, which outnumbered that of the Crusaders. His rage was only heightened by the discovery of the massacred prisoners from Rahovo. He ordered all of the prisoners assembled before him the following morning (September 26). The Turks recognized Jacques de Helly, a French knight who had served under Murad I, and had him identify the chief nobles for ransom. Coucy, Bar, D’Eu, Guy de Tremoille and several others were grouped with Nevers to be spared. Those judged to be under age 20 were also spared and put into forced servitude.

The rest, thought to number several thousand, were bound together in groups of three or four and had their hands tied to be marched naked before the Sultan. Ordered to proceed, a group of executioners proceeded to kill each group in turn, either by decapitation or by severing their limbs from the body. Nevers and the rest of the noble captives were forced to stand beside Bayezid and watch the executions. Jean Le Maingre, called “Boucicaut”, was recognized in the line, and Nevers fell to his knees before the Sultan and indicated with intertwined fingers that they were like brothers. Thus convinced that Boucicaut was worth a noble ransom, he was spared and grouped with the other high nobles. The killing continued from early morning until late afternoon, at which point Bayezid, either himself sickened by the bloodshed or convinced by his ministers that he was unnecessarily enraging Christendom against him, called off the executioners. Leaving aside the more hyperbolic account, the number of dead is said to have ranged from 300 to 3000, though the number of dead on the battlefield was much more.

Of those who fled the battlefield, few survived. So many attempted to swim to the boats in the Danube that several sank from the load; afterward, those on the boats pushed away those trying to board. Many who attempted to swim all the way across the river drowned. Sigismund, fearful of Wallachian treachery, sailed to the Black Sea and Constantinople before making his way home by sea. Those Crusaders who made it across the Danube and tried to return home by land found that the land they were traveling over had already been stripped of forage by the retreating force of Wallachians. Reduced to wandering through the woods in rags and robbed of whatever possessions they had, many of the starved survivors died along the way. Perhaps the most famous of the few who reached home after this journey was Count Rupert of Bavaria, who arrived at his doorstep in beggar’s rags and died several days later from his trials.

The captives were forced to march the 350-mile length to Gallipoli, stripped of clothing down to the their shirts and most without shoes, with hands tied and beaten by their captors. At Gallipoli, the noble captives were kept in the upper rooms of a tower while the 300 prisoners that were the Sultan’s share of the common captives were kept below. The ship carrying Sigismund passed within half a mile of the tower as it went through the Hellespont, for which the Turks lined the captives along the shore and mockingly called out for Sigismund to come and rescue his comrades. Sigismund, while in Constantinople, had made overtures to ransom the captives, but Bayezid was aware that Hungary’s wealth had been depleted in the crusade and that richer ransoms could be had from France. After two months in Gallipoli, the prisoners were transferred to Brusa, the joint Ottoman capital located in Asia, where they awaited word of their ransom.

In the first week of December, rumors of unimaginable defeat arrived in Paris. As no certain news was to be had, rumor-mongers were imprisoned in the Grand Châtelet and, if convicted of lying, sentenced to death by drowning. The King, Burgundy, Orleans and Duc de Bar all sped envoys to Venice and Hungary to bring word back. On December 16, merchant ships brought word to Venice of defeat at Nicopolis and the escape of Sigismund.

Jacques de Helly, the knight who had identified the nobles after the battle, had been charged by Bayezid, under his vow to return, to inform the King of France and Duke of Burgundy of his victory and demands for ransom. On Christmas, de Helly rode into Paris and, kneeling before the king, recounted the expedition, the battle, defeat and Bayezid’s massacre of the prisoners. He also carried letters from Nevers and the other noble captives. Those for whom he did not carry letters were assumed to be dead, and weeping members of the court gathered around de Helly to seek more information about loved ones. According to the Monk of St. Denis, “affliction reigned in all hearts” and Deschamps wrote of “funerals from morning to eve.” January 9 was declared a day of mourning throughout France and that day “it was piteous to hear the bells toiling in all the churches in Paris.

A delegation with rich gifts for Bayezid left Paris on 20 January 1397 to negotiate the ransoms. De Helly, bound by his oath to return, had already departed with letters for the captives. Gian Galeazzo’s help became vital, as he had extensive contacts in the Ottoman court. Envoys were sent informing him of belated approval by the King allowing the fleur-de-lis to be added to the Visconti escutcheon, Galeazzo’s first wife having been from the French royal house, and to make every effort to gain his assistance. Meanwhile, those envoys sent in early December had reached Venice and, having learned of the fate of the captives, were attempting to make their way to Brusa. Venice, which was the French conduit to the Muslim east due to her trade network, became the center for exchange of news, cash and ransomed captives.

On 13 February 1397, de Coucy, ill and perhaps suffering from battle wounds, died. Boucicaut and Guy de Tremoille released on their own accord to seek funds in the Levant reached Rhodes where de Tremoille fell ill and died around Easter. French negotiators in the Sultan’s court finally reached agreement on a ransom of 200,000 gold florins in June. Comte d’Eu died on 15 June. With a down payment of 75,000, the prisoners were released on 24 June on their promise to stay in Venice until the rest of the ransom was paid. However, the nobles found it unthinkable to travel in less than their accustomed splendor and borrowed nearly as much as the ransom amount in re-provisioning themselves. Arriving in Venice in October after stopping in various islands to recover and borrow money, the financial transactions required to both provide the ransom and pay for the travel arrangements and living expenses of the nobles were tremendously complicated. A three-sided transaction between Burgundy, Sigismund and Venice took 27 years to settle. A plague outbreak in Venice required the nobles to move temporarily to Treviso, but still claimed Henri de Bar.

The last of the Crusader leaders – Nevers, Boucicaut, Guillaume de Tremoille and Jacques de la Marche -, along with seven or eight other knights, re-entered France in February 1398. They were greeted by minstrels, parties and parades as they journeyed across the kingdom, though Tuchman notes, “the receptions probably represented not so much popular enthusiasm as organized joy, in which the 14th century excelled.

Broader ramifications

With a historian’s hindsight Johan Huizinga remarked upon “the lamentable consquences of statecraft recklessly embarking on an enterprise of vital import in the spirit of a chivalrous adventure“, though participants and contemporary chroniclers did not analyse the catastrophe in these terms.

No new expedition was launched from Western Europe to stop the Turkish advance in the Balkans after this defeat, until the 1440s. England and France soon renewed their war. Wallachia continued its stance against the Ottomans, having stopped another expedition in the next year, 1397, and in 1400 yet another expedition of the Ottomans. The defeat of Sultan Beyazid I by Timur(Tamerlane) at Ankara in the summer of 1402 opened a period of anarchy in the Ottoman Empire and Mircea took advantage of it to organize together with the Kingdom of Hungary a campaign against the Turks. The Hungarians and Poles were defeated at the Battle of Varna in 1444, and Constantinople finally fell in 1453 to the Turks, followed by the Despotate of Morea in 1460 and the Empire of Trebizond in 1461, which brought an end to the last vestiges of the Byzantine Empire as well as the final remaining pockets of Greek resistance against the Ottoman Turks in both the Balkans and Anatolia.

The Battle of Nicopolis is also widely regarded as the end of the Second Bulgarian Empire, since hopes for its salvation had come to an end with the defeat of the Crusaders.

By their victory at Nicopolis, the Turks discouraged the formation of future European coalitions against them. They maintained their pressure on Constantinople, tightened their control over the Balkans, and became a greater threat to central Europe.

Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Empire

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and others

Imperium Romanum
Roman Empire
Flag of the late Empire (14th century) Imperial emblem under thePalaiologoi
The Empire at its greatest extent under Justinian in 550 CE
Capital Constantinople
Language(s) GreekLatin
Religion Roman paganism until 391, Orthodox Catholic Christianity tolerated after the Edict of Milan in 313 and state religionafter 380
Government Autocracy
– 306–337 Constantine the Great
– 1449–1453 Constantine XI
Legislature Byzantine Senate
Historical era Late Antiquity-Late Middle Ages
– Diocletian splits imperial administration between east and west 285
– Foundation ofConstantinople May 11, 330
– The deposition ofRomulus Augustulus, nominal emperor in the west, brings formal division of the Roman Empire to an end 476
– Pope Leo III, hostile to the rule of the EmpressIrene, attempts to confer imperial authority on the Frankish kingCharlemagne 800
– East-West Schism 1054
– Fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade 1204
– Fall of Constantinople May 29, 1453
– Fall of Trebizond 1461
– 4th cent4 est. 34,000,000
– 8th cent (780 AD) est. 7,000,000
– 11th cent4 (1025 AD) est. 12,000,000
– 12th cent4 (1143 AD) est. 10,000,000
– 13th cent (1281 AD) est. 5,000,000
Currency SolidusHyperpyron
Today part of Albania
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Republic of Macedonia
San Marino
Vatican City
1 Constantinople (330–1204 and 1261–1453). The capital of the Empire of Nicaea, the empire after the Fourth Crusade, was at Nicaea, present day İznikTurkey.
2 Establishment date traditionally considered to be the re-founding of Constantinople as the capital of the Roman Empire (324/330) although other dates are often used.
3Date of end universally regarded as 1453, despite the temporary survival of remnants in Morea and Trebizond.
4 See Population of the Byzantine Empire for more detailed figures taken provided by McEvedy and Jones, “Atlas of World Population History”, 1978, as well asAngeliki E. Laiou, “The Economic History of Byzantium”, 2002.

The Byzantine Empire (or Byzantium) was the predominantly Greek-speakingeastern Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, centered around its capital ofConstantinople, and ruled by emperors in direct succession to the ancient Roman emperors. It was called the Roman Empire and also Romania (Greek: Ῥωμανία,Rhōmanía) by its inhabitants and neighbours. As the distinction between “Roman Empire” and “Byzantine Empire” is largely a modern convention, it is not possible to assign a date of separation, but an important point is Emperor Constantine I’stransfer in 324 of the capital from Nicomedia (in Anatolia) to Byzantium on theBosphorus, which became Constantinople (alternatively “New Rome“).

During its existence of more than a thousand years, the Empire remained one of the most powerful economic, cultural, and military forces in Europe, despite setbacks and territorial losses, especially during the Roman–Persian and Byzantine–Arab Wars. The Empire recovered during the Macedonian dynasty, rising again to become a pre-eminent power in the Eastern Mediterranean by the late tenth century, rivaling the Fatimid Caliphate. After 1071, however, much of Asia Minor, the Empire’s heartland, was lost to the Seljuk Turks. The Komnenian restoration regained some ground and briefly re-established dominance in the twelfth century, but following the death of Andronikos I Komnenos and the end of the Komnenos dynasty in the late twelfth century the Empire declined again.

The Emperor Constantine (c274 – 306 – 337 (63)), founder of the Eastern Roman Empire based on the small Greek colony and port  town of  Byzantium, which he called New Rome but which quickly became known as Constantinople.  

Constantine is shown on the left in Gold (3.4 cm diameter), above left with his mother Helen (Santa Helena – searcher for the True Cross in Jerusalem and Patron Saint of archaeologists) (Icon in the Byzantine Museum, Athens, copy in Casa Paradox), and (above) in a marble head, the surviving piece of a several meters high colossal statue of Constantine as Cosmocrator (Museo Conservatori, Rome).

The Empire received a mortal blow in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade, when it was dissolved and divided into competing Byzantine Greek and Latin realms. Despite the eventual recovery of Constantinople and re-establishment of the Empire in 1261, under the Palaiologan emperors, successive civil wars in the fourteenth century further sapped the Empire’s strength. Most of its remaining territory was lost in the Byzantine–Ottoman Wars, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople and its remaining territories to the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century.



For more details on this topic, see Names of the Greeks.

The designation of the Empire as “Byzantine” began in Western Europe in 1557, when German historian Hieronymus Wolf published his work Corpus Historiæ Byzantinæ, a collection of Byzantine sources. “Byzantine” itself comes from “Byzantium” (a Greek city, founded by colonists from Megara in 667 BC), the name of the city of Constantinople before it became the capital of Constantine. This older name of the city would rarely be used from this point onward except in historical or poetic contexts. The publication in 1648 of the Byzantine du Louvre (Corpus Scriptorum Historiæ Byzantinæ), and in 1680 of Du Cange‘s Historia Byzantinafurther popularized the use of Byzantine among French authors, such asMontesquieu. The term then disappears until the nineteenth century when it came into general use in the Western world. Before this time, Greek had been used for the Empire and its descendants within the Ottoman Empire.

 The Emperor Justinian (483 – 527- 565 (82)), Emperor of Byzantium at the height of its powers  (mosaic in the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna).

The Empire was known to its inhabitants as the Roman Empire, the Empire of the Romans (LatinImperium RomanumImperium RomanorumGreek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn, Αρχη τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Arche tôn Rhōmaíōn),Romania(LatinRomaniaGreek: Ῥωμανία, Rhōmanía), the Roman Republic(LatinRes Publica RomanaGreek: Πολιτεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Politeίa tôn Rhōmaíōn),Graikía (Greek: Γραικία), and also as Rhōmaís (Ῥωμαΐς).

Although the empire had a multi-ethnic character during most of its history and preserved Greco-Roman traditions, it was usually known to most of its western and northern contemporaries as the Empire of the Greeks due to the increasing predominance of the Greek element. The use of the term Empire of the Greeks(Latin: Imperium Graecorum) in the West to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire also implied a rejection of the empire’s claim to be the Roman Empire. The claims of the Eastern Roman Empire to Roman inheritance had been actively contested in the West at the time of the Roman Empress Irene of Athens, due to the coronation ofCharlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800, by Pope Leo III, who, needing help against enemies in Rome, saw the throne of the Roman Empire as vacant (lacking a male occupant). Whenever the Popes or the rulers of the West made use of the name Roman to refer to the eastern Roman Emperors, they preferred the term Imperator Romaniæ instead of Imperator Romanorum, a title that Westerners maintained applied only to Charlemagne and his successors.

By contrast, in the PersianIslamic, and Slavic worlds, the Empire’s Roman identity was generally accepted. In the Islamic world it was known primarily as روم (Rûm “Rome”).

In modern historical atlases, the Empire is usually called the Eastern Roman Empire in maps depicting the empire during the period 395 to 610, after the new emperor Heraclius changed the official language from Latin to Greek (already the language known by the great majority of the population); in maps depicting the Empire after 610, the term Byzantine Empire usually appears.

The Empress Theodora, courtesan, sexual performer and Justinian’s wife and love (mosaic in the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna).  She also saved Justinian’s throne for him in 532 (early in his 527 – 565 reign) by facing down a rebellion after he had given up and was preparing to flee .


Main article: History of the Eastern Roman Empire

Territorial development of the Empire

Early History of the Roman Empire

The Roman army succeeded in conquering a vast collection of territories covering the entire Mediterranean region and much of Western Europe. These territories consisted of many different cultural groups, ranging from primitive to highly sophisticated. Generally speaking, the eastern Mediterranean provinces were more urbanized and socially developed, having previously been united under theMacedonian Empire and Hellenized by the influence of Greek culture. In contrast, the western regions had mostly remained independent from any single cultural or political authority, and were still largely rural and less developed. This distinction between the long-established Hellenized East and the younger Latinized West would persist and become increasingly important in later centuries.

Division of the Roman Empire

In 293, Diocletian created a new administrative system (the tetrarchy). He associated himself with a co-emperor, or Augustus. Each Augustus was then to adopt a young colleague, or Caesar, to share in the rule and eventually to succeed the senior partner. After the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian, however, the tetrarchy collapsed, and Constantine I replaced it with the dynastic principle of hereditary succession.

Constantine moved the seat of the Empire, and introduced important changes into its civil and religious constitution. In 330, he founded Constantinople as a second Rome on the site of Byzantium, which was well-positioned astride the trade routes between East and West.

Constantine built upon the administrative reforms introduced by Diocletian. He stabilized the coinage (the gold solidus that he introduced became a highly prized and stable currency), and made changes to the structure of the army. Under Constantine, the Empire had recovered much of its military strength and enjoyed a period of stability and prosperity.

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The Baptism of Constantine painted byRaphael‘s pupils (1520–1524, fresco,Vatican CityApostolic Palace). Eusebius of Caesaria records that, as was customary among Christian converts at the time, Constantine delayed receiving baptism until shortly before his death.

Under Constantine, Christianity did not become the exclusive religion of the state, but enjoyed imperial preference, since the Emperor supported it with generous privileges. Constantine established the principle that emperors should not settle questions of doctrine, but should summon general ecclesiastical councils for that purpose. The Synod of Arles was convened by Constantine, and the First Council of Nicaea showcased his claim to be head of the Church.

The state of the Empire in 395 may be described in terms of the outcome of Constantine’s work. The dynastic principle was established so firmly that the emperor who died in that year,Theodosius I, could bequeath the imperial office jointly to his sons: Arcadius in the East andHonorius in the West. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over the full extent of the empire in both its halves.

The Eastern Empire was largely spared the difficulties faced by the West in the third and fourth centuries, due in part to a more established urban culture and greater financial resources, which allowed it to placate invaders with tribute and pay foreign mercenariesTheodosius II further fortified the walls of Constantinople, leaving the city impervious to most attacks; the walls were not breached until 1204. To fend off the Huns of Attila, Theodosius gave them subsidies (purportedly 300 kg (700 lb) of gold) Moreover, he favored merchants living in Constantinople who traded with the Huns and other foreign groups.

The Eastern Roman Empire in 500 AD.

His successor, Marcian, refused to continue to pay this exorbitant sum. However, Attila had already diverted his attention to the Western Roman Empire. After he died in 453, his empire collapsed and Constantinople initiated a profitable relationship with the remaining Huns, who would eventually fight as mercenaries in Byzantine armies.

After the fall of Attila, the Eastern Empire enjoyed a period of peace, while the Western Empire collapsed (its end is usually dated in 476 when the Germanic Roman general Odoacer deposed the titular Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus, but declined to replace him with another puppet).

To recover Italy, the emperor Zeno could only negotiate with the Ostrogoths of Theodoric, who had settled in Moesia. He sent the Gothic king to Italy as magister militum per Italiam (“commander in chief for Italy”). After the fall of Odoacer in 493, Theodoric, who had lived in Constantinople during his youth, ruled Italy on his own. Thus, by suggesting that Theodoric conquer Italy as his Ostrogothic kingdom, Zeno maintained at least a nominal supremacy in that western land while ridding the Eastern Empire of an unruly subordinate.

In 491, Anastasius I, an aged civil officer of Roman origin, became emperor, but it was not until 498 that the forces of the new emperor effectively took the measure of Isaurian resistance.Anastasius revealed himself to be an energetic reformer and an able administrator. He perfected Constantine I’s coinage system by definitively setting the weight of the copper follis, the coin used in most everyday transactions. He also reformed the tax system, and permanently abolished the hated chrysargyron tax. The State Treasury contained the enormous sum of 320,000 lbs (145,150 kg) of gold when Anastasius died in 518.

Reconquest of the Western provinces


Justinian I depicted on one of the famous mosaics of theBasilica of San VitaleRavenna.

Justinian I, who assumed the throne in 527, oversaw a period of recovery of former territories. Justinian, the son of an Illyrian peasant, may already have exerted effective control during the reign of his uncle, Justin I(518–527).In 532, attempting to secure his eastern frontier, Justinian signed a peace treaty withKhosrau I of Persia agreeing to pay a large annual tribute to the Sassanids. In the same year, Justinian survived a revolt in Constantinople (the Nika riots) which ended with the death of (allegedly) thirty thousand rioters. This victory solidified Justinian’s power. Pope Agapetus I was sent to Constantinople by theOstrogothic king Theodahad, but failed in his mission to sign a peace with Justinian. However, he succeeded in having the Monophysite Patriarch Anthimus I of Constantinople denounced, despite Empress Theodora‘s support.

The western conquests began in 533, as Justinian sent his general Belisarius to reclaim the former province of Africa from the Vandals with an army of about 15,000 men. Success came with surprising ease, but it was not until 548 that the major local independent tribes were subdued. In Ostrogothic Italy, the deaths of Theodoric the Great, his nephew and heir Athalaric, and his daughter Amalasuntha had left her murderer Theodahad on the throne despite his weakened authority. In 535, a small Byzantine expedition sent to Sicily met with easy success, but the Goths soon stiffened their resistance, and victory did not come until 540, when Belisarius captured Ravenna, after successful sieges of Naples and Rome.

Byzantine expansion during Justinian’s reign.

Nevertheless, the Ostrogoths were soon reunited under the command of Totila and captured Rome on 17 December 546; Belisarius was eventually recalled by Justinian in early 549. The arrival of the Armenian eunuch Narses in Italy (late 551) with an army of some 35,000 men marked another shift in Gothic fortunes. Totila was defeated and died at the Battle of Busta Gallorum. His successor, Teia, was likewise defeated at the Battle of Mons Lactarius (October 552). Despite continuing resistance from a few Goth garrisons and two subsequent invasions by the Franks andAlamanni, the war for the Italian peninsula was at an end. In 551, a noble of VisigothicHispaniaAthanagild, sought Justinian’s help in a rebellion against the king, and the emperor dispatched a force under Liberius, who, although elderly, proved himself a successful military commander. The Byzantine empire held on to a small slice of the Spania coast until the reign ofHeraclius.

In the east, Roman-Persian Wars continued until 561 when Justinian’s and Khosrau’s envoys agreed on a 50-year peace. By the mid-550s, Justinian had won victories in most theaters of operation, with the notable exception of the Balkans, which were subjected to repeated incursions from the Slavs. In 559, the Empire faced a great invasion of Kutrigurs and Sclaveni. Justinian called Belisarius out of retirement, but once the immediate danger was over, the emperor took charge himself. The news that Justinian was reinforcing his Danube fleet made the Kutrigurs anxious, and they agreed to a treaty which gave them a subsidy and safe passage back across the river.

Justinian became universally famous because of his legislative work, remarkable for its sweeping character. In 529, a ten-man commission chaired by John the Cappadocian revised the ancient Roman legal code, creating the new Corpus Juris Civilis, a collection of laws that came to be referred to as “Justinian’s Code”.

During the sixth century, the traditional Greco-Roman culture was still influential in the Eastern empire with prominent representatives such as the natural philosopher John Philoponus. Nevertheless, the Christian philosophy and culture were in the ascendant and began to dominate the older culture. Hymns written by Romanos the Melodist marked the development of the Divine Liturgy, while architects and builders worked to complete the new Church of the Holy WisdomHagia Sophia, designed to replace an older church destroyed in the course of the Nika revolt. Hagia Sophia stands today as one of the major monuments of architectural history. During the sixth and seventh centuries, the Empire was struck by a series of epidemics, which would greatly devastate the population, contributing to a significant economic decline and weakening of the Empire.Thus, some historians trace to the period between Justinian‘s death and the accession of Heraclius the transformation of Classical civilization into Eastern Orthodox civilization.

After Justinian died in 565, his successor, Justin II refused to pay the large tribute to the Persians. Meanwhile, the Germanic Lombardsinvaded Italy; by the end of the century only a third of Italy was in Byzantine hands. Justin’s successor, Tiberius II, choosing between his enemies, awarded subsidies to the Avars while taking military action against the Persians. Though Tiberius’ general, Maurice, led an effective campaign on the eastern frontier, subsidies failed to restrain the Avars. They captured the Balkan fortress of Sirmium in 582, while the Slavsbegan to make inroads across the Danube. Maurice, who meanwhile succeeded Tiberius, intervened in a Persian civil war, placed the legitimate Khosrau II back on the throne and married his daughter to him. Maurice’s treaty with his new brother-in-law brought a new status-quo to the east territorially, enlarged to an extent never before achieved by the empire in its six century history, and much cheaper to defend during this new perpetual peace – millions of solidi were saved by the remission of tribute to the Persians alone. After his victory on the eastern frontier, Maurice was free to focus on the Balkans, and by 602 after a series of successful campaigns he had pushed the Avars and Slavs back across the Danube.

The shrinking borders

Heraclian dynasty

After Maurice’s murder by Phocas, Khosrau used the pretext to reconquer the Roman province of Mesopotamia. Phocas, an unpopular ruler who was invariably described in Byzantine sources as a “tyrant”, was the target of a number of senate-led plots. He was eventually deposed in 610 by Heraclius, who sailed to Constantinople from Carthage with an icon affixed to the prow of his ship. Following the ascension of Heraclius, the Sassanid advance pushed deep into Asia Minor, also occupying Damascus and Jerusalem and removing the True Cross to Ctesiphon. The counter-offensive of Heraclius took on the character of a holy war, and an acheiropoietos image of Christ was carried as a military standard. (Similarly, when Constantinople was saved from an Avar siege in 626, the victory was attributed to the icons of the Virgin which were led in procession by Patriarch Sergius about the walls of the city). The main Sassanid force was destroyed atNineveh in 627, and in 629 Heraclius restored the True Cross to Jerusalem in a majestic ceremony. The war had exhausted both the Byzantine and Sassanid Empire, and left them extremely vulnerable to the Arab Muslim forces which emerged in the following years.[44] TheRomans suffered a crushing defeat by the Arabs at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636, and Ctesiphon fell in 634.

Byzantine Empire by 650; by this year it lost all of its southern provinces except the Exarchate of Carthage.

The Arabs, now firmly in control of Syria and the Levant, sent frequent raiding parties deep into Anatolia, and between 674 and 678 laid siege to Constantinople itself. The Arab fleet was finally repulsed through the use ofGreek fire, and a thirty-years’ truce was signed between the empire andUmmayyad Caliphate. The Anatolian raids continued unabated, and accelerated the demise of classical urban culture, with the inhabitants of many cities either refortifying much smaller areas within the old city walls, or relocating entirely to nearby fortresses. Constantinople itself dropped substantially in size, from 500,000 inhabitants to just 40,000–70,000, as the city lost the free grain shipments in 618 after the loss of Egypt to the Persians (province was regained in 629, but lost to Arab invaders in 642).The void left by the disappearance of the old semi-autonomous civic institutions was filled by the theme system, which entailed the division of Anatolia into “provinces” occupied by distinct armies which assumed civil authority and answered directly to the imperial administration. This system may have had its roots in certain ad hoc measures taken by Heraclius, but over the course of the seventh century it developed into an entirely new system of imperial governance.


The Greek fire was first used by theByzantine Navy during the Byzantine-Arab Wars (from the Madrid SkylitzesBiblioteca Nacional de EspañaMadrid).

The withdrawal of large numbers of troops from the Balkans to combat the Persians and then the Arabs in the east opened the door for the gradual southward expansion of Slavic peoples into the peninsula, and, as in Anatolia, many cities shrank to small fortified settlements. In the 670s, the Bulgarians were pushed south of the Danube by the arrival of the Khazars, and in 680 Byzantine forces which had been sent to disperse these new settlements were defeated. In the next year, Constantine IV signed a treaty with the Bulgarian khan Asparukh, and the new Bulgarian state assumed sovereignty over a number of Slavic tribes which had previously, at least in name, recognized Byzantine rule.[51] In 687–688, the emperor Justinian II led an expedition against the Slavs and Bulgarians which made significant gains, although the fact that he had to fight his way from Thrace to Macedonia demonstrates the degree to which Byzantine power in the north Balkans had declined.

The final Heraclian emperor, Justinian II, attempted to break the power of the urban aristocracy through severe taxation and the appointment of “outsiders” to administrative posts. He was driven from power in 695, and took shelter first with the Khazars and then with the Bulgarians. In 705, he returned to Constantinople with the armies of the Bulgarian khan Tervel, retook the throne, and instituted a reign of terror against his enemies. With his final overthrow in 711, supported once more by the urban aristocracy, the Heraclian dynasty came to an end.

Isaurian dynasty to the ascension of Basil I

The Byzantine Empire at the accession of Leo IIIc. 717. Striped land shows land raided by the Arabs.

Leo III the Isaurian turned back the Muslim assault in 718, and achieved victory with the major help of the Bulgarian khan Tervel, who killed 32,000 Arabs with his army. He also addressed himself to the task of reorganizing and consolidating the themes in Asia Minor. His successor, Constantine V, won noteworthy victories in northern Syria, and thoroughly undermined Bulgar strength.

In 826, the Arabs captured Crete, and successfully attacked Sicily, but on 3 September 863, general Petronas gained a huge victory against Umar al-Aqta, the emir of Melitene. Under the leadership of Bulgarian EmperorKrum, the Bulgarian threat also reemerged, but in 814 Krum’s son,Omortag, arranged a peace with the Byzantine Empire.

The eighth and ninth centuries were also dominated by controversy and religious division over IconoclasmIcons were banned by Leo and Constantine, leading to revolts by iconodules (supporters of icons) throughout the empire. After the efforts of Empress Irene, the Second Council of Nicaea met in 787, and affirmed that icons could be venerated but not worshipped. Irene is said to have endeavored to negotiate a marriage between herself and Charlemagne, but, according toTheophanes the Confessor, the scheme was frustrated by Aetios, one of her favourites. In 813, Leo V the Armenian restored the policy of iconoclasm, but in 843 Empress Theodora restored the veneration of the icons with the help of Patriarch Methodios.Iconoclasm played its part in the further alienation of East from West, which worsened during the so-called Photian Schism, when Pope Nicholas I challengedPhotios‘ elevation to the patriarchate.

Macedonian dynasty and resurgence

Wars against the Muslims

The Byzantine Empire, c. 867 AD.

By 867, the empire had re-stabilised its position in both the east and the west, and the efficiency of its defensive military structure enabled its emperors to begin planning wars of reconquest in the east.

The process of reconquest began with variable fortunes. The temporary reconquest of Crete (843) was followed by a crushing Byzantine defeat on the Bosporus, while the emperors were unable to prevent the ongoing Muslim conquest of Sicily (827–902). Using present day Tunisia as their launching pad, the Muslims conquered Palermo in 831, Messina in 842,Enna in 859, Syracuse in 878, Catania in 900 and the final Byzantine stronghold, the fortress of Taormina, in 902.

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The military successes of the tenth century were coupled with a major cultural revival, the so-called Macedonian Renaissance. Miniature from the Paris Psalter, an example of Hellenistic-influenced art.

These drawbacks were later counterbalanced by a victorious expedition against Damietta in Egypt (856), the defeat of the Emir of Melitene (863), the confirmation of the imperial authority over Dalmatia (867), and Basil I’s offensives towards the Euphrates (870s). Unlike the deteriorating situation in Sicily, Basil I handled the situation in southern Italy well enough and the province would remain in Byzantine hands for the next 200 years.

In 904, disaster struck the empire when its second city, Thessaloniki, was sacked by an Arab fleet led by the Byzantine renegade Leo of Tripoli. The Byzantine military responded by destroying an Arab fleet in 908, and sacking the city of Laodicea in Syria two years later. Despite this revenge, the Byzantines were still unable to strike a decisive blow against the Muslims, who inflicted a crushing defeat on the imperial forces when they attempted to regain Crete in 911.

The situation on the border with the Arab territories remained fluid, with the Byzantines alternatively on the offensive or defensive. The Varangians, who attacked Constantinople for the first time in 860, constituted another new challenge. In 941, they appeared on the Asian shore of the Bosporus, but this time they were crushed, showing the improvements in the Byzantine military position after 907, when only diplomacy had been able to push back the invaders. The vanquisher of the Varangians was the famous general John Kourkouas, who continued the offensive with other noteworthy victories in Mesopotamia (943): these culminated in the reconquest of Edessa (944), which was especially celebrated for the return to Constantinople of the veneratedMandylion.

The soldier-emperors Nikephoros II Phokas (reigned 963–969) and John I Tzimiskes (969–976) expanded the empire well into Syria, defeating the emirs of north-west Iraq and reconquering Crete and Cyprus. At one point under John, the empire’s armies even threatened Jerusalem, far to the south. The emirate of Aleppo and its neighbours became vassals of the empire in the east, where the greatest threat to the empire was the Fatimid caliphate. After much campaigning, the last Arab threat to Byzantium was defeated when Basil II rapidly drew 40,000 mounted soldiers to relieve Roman Syria. With a surplus of resources and victories thanks to the Bulgar and Syrian campaigns, Basil II planned an expedition against Sicily to re-take it from the Arabs there. After his death in 1025, the expedition set off in the 1040s and was met with initial, but stunted success.

Wars against the Bulgarian Empire

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Emperor Basil II the Bulgar Slayer (976–1025).

The traditional struggle with the See of Rome continued, spurred by the question of religious supremacy over the newly Christianized Bulgaria. This prompted an invasion by the powerful Tsar Simeon I in 894, but this was pushed back by Byzantine diplomacy, which called on the help of the Hungarians. The Byzantines were in turn defeated, however, at the Battle of Bulgarophygon (896), and obliged to pay annual subsides to the Bulgarians. Later (912), Simeon even had the Byzantines grant him the crown of basileus(emperor) of Bulgaria and had the young emperor Constantine VII marry one of his daughters. When a revolt in Constantinople halted his dynastic project, he again invaded Thrace and conquered Adrianople.

A great imperial expedition under Leo Phocas and Romanos Lekapenos ended again with a crushing Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Acheloos (917), and the following year the Bulgarians were free to ravage northern Greece as far as Corinth. Adrianople was captured again in 923 and in 924 a Bulgarian army laid siege to Constantinople. The situation in the Balkans improved only after Simeon’s death in 927. In 968, Bulgaria was overrun by the Rus’ under Sviatoslav I of Kiev, but three years later, the emperor John I Tzimiskes defeated the Rus’ and re-incorporated eastern Bulgaria into the Empire.

The Empire under Basil II.

Bulgarian resistance revived under the rule of theCometopuli dynasty, but the new emperor Basil II (reigned 976–1025) made the submission of the Bulgarians his primary goal. Basil’s first expedition against Bulgaria, however, resulted in a humiliating defeat at the Gates of Trajan. For the next few years, the emperor would be preoccupied with internal revolts in Anatolia, while the Bulgarians expanded their realm in the Balkans. The war was to drag on for nearly twenty years. The Byzantine victories of Spercheios and Skopje decisively weakened the Bulgarian army, and in annual campaigns, Basil methodically reduced the Bulgarian strongholds. Eventually, at the Battle of Kleidion in 1014 the Bulgarians were completely defeated. The Bulgarian army was captured, and it is said that 99 out of every 100 men were blinded, with the remaining hundredth man left with one eye so as to lead his compatriots home. When Tsar Samuil saw the broken remains of his once gallant army, he died of shock. By 1018, the last Bulgarian strongholds had surrendered, and the country became part of the Byzantine Empire. This victory restored the Danube frontier, which had not been held since the days of the emperor Heraclius.

Relations with the Kievan Rus’


Kievan Rus’ under the walls of Constantinople (860).

Between 850 and 1100, the Empire developed a mixed relationship with a new state that emerged to the north across the Black Sea, that of the Kievan Rus’. This relationship would have long-lasting repercussions in the history of the East Slavs. Byzantium quickly became the main tradingand cultural partner for Kiev, but relations were not always friendly. The most serious conflict between the two powers was the war of 968–971 in Bulgaria, but several Rus’ raiding expeditionsagainst the Byzantine cities of the Black Sea coast and Constantinople itself are also recorded. Although most were repulsed, they were concluded by trade treaties that were generally favourable to the Rus’.

Rus’-Byzantine relations became closer following the marriage of the porphyrogenita Anna toVladimir the Great, and the subsequent Christianization of the Rus’: Byzantine priests, architects and artists were invited to work on numerous cathedrals and churches around Rus’, expanding Byzantine cultural influence even further. Numerous Rus’ served in the Byzantine army as mercenaries, most notably as the famousVarangian Guard.

The apex

The Byzantine Empire then stretched from Armenia in the east to Calabria in Southern Italy in the west. Many successes had been achieved, ranging from the conquest of Bulgaria, to the annexation of parts of Georgia and Armenia, to the total annihilation of an invading force of Egyptians outside Antioch. Yet even these victories were not enough; Basil considered the continued Arab occupation of Sicily to be an outrage. Accordingly, he planned to reconquer the island, which had belonged to the Roman world since the First Punic War. However, his death in 1025 put an end to the project.

The eleventh century was also momentous for its religious events. In 1054, relations between the Eastern and Western traditions within the Christian Church reached a terminal crisis. Although there was a formal declaration of institutional separation, on 16 July, when three papal legates entered the Hagia Sophia during Divine Liturgy on a Saturday afternoon and placed a bull of excommunication on the altar, the so-called Great Schism was actually the culmination of centuries of gradual separation.

Crisis and fragmentation

Byzantium soon fell into a period of difficulties, caused to a large extent by the undermining of the theme system and the neglect of the military. Nikephoros II (963–969), John Tzimiskes and Basil II changed the military divisions (τάγματα, tagmata) from a rapid response, primarily defensive, citizen army into a professional, campaigning army increasingly manned by mercenaries. Mercenaries, however, were expensive and as the threat of invasion receded in the tenth century, so did the need for maintaining large garrisons and expensive fortifications. Basil II left a burgeoning treasury upon his death, but neglected to plan for his succession. None of his immediate successors had any particular military or political talent and the administration of the Empire increasingly fell into the hands of the civil service. Efforts to revive the Byzantine economy only resulted in inflation and a debased gold coinage. The army was now seen as both an unnecessary expense and a political threat. Therefore, native troops were cashiered and replaced by foreign mercenaries on specific contract.

At the same time, the Empire was faced with new, ambitious enemies. Byzantine provinces in southern Italy faced the Normans, who arrived in Italy at the beginning of the eleventh century. During a period of strife between Constantinople and Rome which ended in the East-West Schism of 1054, the Normans began to advance, slowly but steadily, into Byzantine Italy. The Byzantines also lost their influence over theDalmatian coastal cities to Peter Krešimir IV of Croatia in 1069.

It was in Asia Minor, however, that the greatest disaster would take place. The Seljuq Turks made their first explorations across the Byzantine frontier into Armenia in 1065 and in 1067. The emergency lent weight to the military aristocracy in Anatolia who, in 1068, secured the election of one of their own, Romanos Diogenes, as emperor. In the summer of 1071, Romanos undertook a massive eastern campaign to draw the Seljuks into a general engagement with the Byzantine army. At Manzikert, Romanos not only suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Sultan Alp Arslan, but was also captured. Alp Arslan treated him with respect, and imposed no harsh terms on the Byzantines.In Constantinople, however, a coup took place in favor of Michael Doukas, who soon faced the opposition of Nikephoros Bryennios andNikephoros Botaneiates. By 1081, the Seljuks expanded their rule over virtually the entire Anatolian plateau from Armenia in the east toBithynia in the west and founded their capital at Nicaea, just 55 miles (88 km) from Constantinople.

Komnenian dynasty and the crusaders

Alexios I and the First Crusade

The Byzantine Empire and the Sultanate of Rûm before the Crusades.

After Manzikert, a partial recovery (referred to as the Komnenian restoration) was made possible by the efforts of the Komnenian dynasty. The first emperor of this dynasty was Isaac I (1057–1059) and the second Alexios I. At the very outset of his reign, Alexios faced a formidable attack by the Normans under Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund of Taranto, who captured Dyrrhachium and Corfu, and laid siege to Larissa in Thessaly. Robert Guiscard’s death in 1085 temporarily eased the Norman problem. The following year, the Seljuq sultan died, and the sultanate was split by internal rivalries. By his own efforts, Alexios defeated the Pechenegs; they were caught by surprise and annihilated at the Battle of Levounion on 28 April 1091.

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The very brief first coinage of theThessaloniki mint, which Alexios opened as he passed through in September 1081 on his way to confront the invading Normans under Robert Guiscard.

Having achieved stability in the West, Alexios could turn his attention to the severe economic difficulties and the disintegration of the empire’s traditional defences. However, he still did not have enough manpower to recover the lost territories in Asia Minor and to advance against the Seljuks. At the Council of Piacenza in 1095, Alexios’ envoys spoke to Pope Urban II about the suffering of the Christians of the East, and underscored that without help from the West they would continue to suffer under Muslim rule. Urban saw Alexios’ request as a dual opportunity to cement Western Europe and enhance papal power.On 27 November 1095, Pope Urban II called together the Council of Clermont, and urged all those present to take up arms under the sign of the Cross and launch an armed pilgrimage to recover Jerusalem and the East from the Muslims. The response in Western Europe was overwhelming.

Alexios had anticipated help in the form of mercenary forces from the West, but was totally unprepared for the immense and undisciplined force which soon arrived in Byzantine territory. It was no comfort to Alexios to learn that four of the eight leaders of the main body of the Crusade were Normans, among them Bohemund. Since the crusade had to pass through Constantinople, however, the Emperor had some control over it. He required its leaders to swear to restore to the empire any towns or territories they might conquer from the Turks on their way to the Holy Land. In return, he gave them guides and a military escort. Alexios was able to recover a number of important cities and islands, and in fact much of western Asia Minor. Nevertheless, the crusaders believed their oaths were invalidated when Alexios did not help them during the siege of Antioch (he had in fact set out on the road to Antioch, but had been persuaded to turn back by Stephen of Blois, who assured him that all was lost and that the expedition had already failed). Bohemund, who had set himself up as Prince of Antioch, briefly went to war with the Byzantines, but agreed to become Alexios’ vassal under the Treaty of Devol in 1108, which marked the end of Norman threat during Alexios’ reign.

John II, Manuel I and the Second Crusade


Medieval manuscript depicting theCapture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade.

Alexios’ son John II Komnenos succeeded him in 1118, and was to rule until 1143. John was a pious and dedicated emperor who was determined to undo the damage his empire had suffered at the Battle of Manzikert, half a century earlier. Famed for his piety and his remarkably mild and just reign, John was an exceptional example of a moral ruler, at a time when cruelty was the norm. For this reason, he has been called the Byzantine Marcus Aurelius. In the course of his twenty-five year reign, John made alliances with the Holy Roman Empire in the West, decisively defeated the Pechenegs at the Battle of Beroia, and personally led numerous campaigns against the Turks in Asia Minor. John’s campaigns fundamentally changed the balance of power in the east, forcing the Turks onto the defensive and restoring to the Byzantines many towns, fortresses and cities right across the peninsula. He also thwarted Hungarian, and Serbian threats during the 1120s, and in 1130 allied himself with the German emperor Lothair III against the Norman king Roger II of Sicily. In the later part of his reign, John focused his activities on the East. He defeated the Danishmend emirate of Melitene, and reconquered all of Cilicia, while forcing Raymond of PoitiersPrince of Antioch, to recognize Byzantine suzerainty. In an effort to demonstrate the Byzantine emperor’s role as the leader of the Christian world, John marched into the Holy Land at the head of the combined forces of Byzantium and the Crusader states; yet despite the great vigour with which he pressed the campaign, John’s hopes were disappointed by the treachery of his Crusader allies. In 1142, John returned to press his claims to Antioch, but he died in the spring of 1143 following a hunting accident. Raymond was emboldened to invade Cilicia, but he was defeated and forced to go to Constantinople to beg mercy from the new emperor.

Byzantine Empire in violet, c.1180, at the end of the Komnenian period.

John’s chosen heir was his fourth son, Manuel I Komnenos, who campaigned aggressively against his neighbours both in the west and in the east. In Palestine, he allied himself with the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and sent a large fleet to participate in a combined invasion ofFatimid Egypt. Manuel reinforced his position as overlord of the Crusader states, with his hegemony over Antioch and Jerusalem secured by agreement with Raynald, Prince of Antioch, and Amalric, King of Jerusalem respectively. In an effort to restore Byzantine control over the ports of southern Italy, he sent an expedition to Italy in 1155, but disputes within the coalition led to the eventual failure of the campaign. Despite this military setback, Manuel’s armies successfully invaded the Kingdom of Hungary in 1167, defeating the Hungarians at the Battle of Sirmium. By 1168, nearly the whole of the eastern Adriatic coast lay in Manuel’s hands. Manuel made several alliances with the Pope and Western Christian kingdoms, and successfully handled the passage of the Second Crusade through his empire.

In the east, however, Manuel suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Myriokephalon, in 1176, against the Turks. Yet the losses were quickly made good, and in the following year Manuel’s forces inflicted a defeat upon a force of “picked Turks”. The Byzantine commander John Vatatzes, who destroyed the Turkish invaders at the Battle of Hyelion and Leimocheir, not only brought troops from the capital but also was able to gather an army along the way; a sign that the Byzantine army remained strong and that the defensive program of western Asia Minor was still successful.

Twelfth century Renaissance

John and Manuel pursued active military policies, and both deployed considerable resources on sieges and on city defenses; aggressive fortification policies were at the heart of their imperial military policies.[82] Despite the defeat at Myriokephalon, the policies of Alexios, John and Manuel resulted in vast territorial gains, increased frontier stability in Asia Minor, and secured the stabilization of the empire’s European frontiers. From c.1081 to c.1180, the Komnenian army assured the empire’s security, enabling Byzantine civilization to flourish.

This allowed the Western provinces to achieve an economic revival which continued until the close of the century. It has been argued that Byzantium under the Komnenian rule was more prosperous than at any time since the Persian invasions of the seventh century. During the twelfth century, population levels rose and extensive tracts of new agricultural land were brought into production. Archaeological evidence from both Europe and Asia Minor shows a considerable increase in the size of urban settlements, together with a notable upsurge in new towns. Trade was also flourishing; the Venetians, the Genoese and others opened up the ports of the Aegean to commerce, shipping goods from the Crusader kingdoms of Outremer and Fatimid Egypt to the west and trading with the Byzantine Empire via Constantinople.

In artistic terms, there was a revival in mosaic, and regional schools of architecture began producing many distinctive styles that drew on a range of cultural influences. During the twelfth century, the Byzantines provided their model of early humanism as a renaissance of interest in classical authors. In Eustathius of Thessalonica, Byzantine humanism found its most characteristic expression.

Decline and disintegration

Main article: Decline of the Byzantine Empire

Dynasty of the Angeloi

Manuel’s death on 24 September 1180 left his 11-year-old son Alexios II Komnenos on the throne. Alexios was highly incompetent at the office, but it was his mother, Maria of Antioch, and her Frankish background that made his regency unpopular. Eventually, Andronikos I Komnenos, a grandson of Alexios I, launched a revolt against his younger relative and managed to overthrow him in a violent coup d’état. Utilizing his good looks and his immense popularity with the army, he marched on to Constantinople in August 1182, and incited a massacre of the Latins. After eliminating his potential rivals, he had himself crowned as co-emperor in September 1183; he eliminated Alexios II and even took his 12-year-old wife Agnes of France for himself.

Andronikos began his reign well; in particular, the measures he took to reform the government of the empire have been praised by historians. According to George Ostrogorsky, Andronikos was determined to root out corruption: Under his rule, the sale of offices ceased; selection was based on merit, rather than favoritism; officials were paid an adequate salary so as to reduce the temptation of bribery. In the provinces, Andronikos’ reforms produced a speedy and marked improvement. The aristocrats were infuriated against him, and to make matters worse, Andronikos seems to have become increasingly unbalanced; executions and violence became increasingly common, and his reign turned into a reign of terror. Andronikos seemed almost to seek the extermination of the aristocracy as a whole. The struggle against the aristocracy turned into wholesale slaughter, while the emperor resorted to ever more ruthless measures to shore up his regime.

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Iconium was won by the Third Crusade.

Despite his military background, Andronikos failed to deal with Isaac KomnenosBéla III who reincorporated Croatian territories into Hungary, and Stephen Nemanja of Serbia who declared his independence from Byzantium. Yet none of these troubles would compare to William II of Sicily‘s invasion force of 300 ships and 80,000 men, arriving in 1185. Andronikos mobilized a small fleet of 100 ships to defend the capital but other than that he was indifferent to the populace. He was finally overthrown when Isaac Angelos, surviving an imperial assassination attempt, seized power with the aid of the people and had Andronikos killed.

The reign of Isaac II, and, still more, that of his brother Alexios III, saw the collapse of what remained of the centralized machinery of Byzantine government and defense. Although, the Normans were driven out of Greece, in 1186 the Vlachs and Bulgars began a rebellion that was to lead to the formation of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The internal policy of the Angeloi was characterized by the squandering of the public treasure, and the fiscal maladministration. Byzantine authority was severely weakened, and the growing power vacuum at the center of the empire encouraged fragmentation. There is evidence that some Komnenian heirs had set up a semi-independent state in Trebizond before 1204. According to Alexander Vasiliev, “the dynasty of the Angeloi, Greek in its origin, […] accelerated the ruin of the Empire, already weakened without and disunited within.

Fourth Crusade

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The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, by Eugène Delacroix(1840).

In 1198, Pope Innocent III broached the subject of a new crusade through legates and encyclical letters. The stated intent of the crusade was to conquer Egypt, now the centre of Muslim power in the Levant. The crusader army that arrived at Venice in the summer of 1202 was somewhat smaller than had been anticipated, and there were not sufficient funds to pay the Venetians, whose fleet was hired by the crusaders to take them to Egypt. Venetian policy under the aging and blind but still ambitious Doge Enrico Dandolo was potentially at variance with that of the Pope and the crusaders, because Venice was closely related commercially with Egypt. The crusaders accepted the suggestion that in lieu of payment they assist the Venetians in the capture of the (Christian) port of Zara in Dalmatia (vassal city of Venice, which had rebelled and placed itself under Hungary’s protection in 1186). The city fell in November 1202 after a briefsiege. Innocent, who was informed of the plan but his veto disregarded, was reluctant to jeopardize the Crusade, and gave conditional absolution to the crusaders—not, however, to the Venetians.

After the death of Theobald III, Count of Champagne, the leadership of the Crusade passed toBoniface of Montferrat, a friend of the Hohenstaufen Philip of Swabia. Both Boniface and Philip had married into the Byzantine imperial family. In fact, Philip’s brother-in-law, Alexios Angelos, son of the deposed and blinded emperor Isaac II Angelos, had appeared in Europe seeking aid and had made contacts with the crusaders. Alexios offered to reunite the Byzantine church with Rome, pay the crusaders 200,000 silver marks, and join the crusade with 200,000 silver marks and all the supplies they needed to get to Egypt.[99] Innocent was aware of a plan to divert the Crusade to Constantinople and forbade any attack on the city, but the papal letter arrived after the fleets had left Zara.

Map to show the partition of the empire following the Fourth Crusade, c. 1204.

The crusaders arrived at the city in the summer of 1203, Alexios III fled from the capital, and Alexios Angelos was elevated to the throne as Alexios IValong with his blind father Isaac. However, Alexios IV and Isaac II were unable to keep their promises and were deposed by Alexios V. Eventually, the crusaders took the city on 13 April 1204. Constantinople was subjected by the rank and file to pillage and massacre for three days. Many priceless icons, relics, and other objects later turned up in Western Europe, a large number in Venice. According to Choniates, a prostitute was even set up on the Patriarchal throne When Innocent III heard of the conduct of his crusaders, he castigated them in no uncertain terms. But the situation was beyond his control, especially after his legate, on his own initiative, had absolved the crusaders from their vow to proceed to the Holy Land.When order had been restored, the crusaders and the Venetians proceeded to implement their agreement; Baldwin of Flanders was elected emperor and the Venetian Thomas Morosini chosen patriarch. The lands parcelled out among the leaders did not include all the former Byzantine possessions. Byzantine rule continued in NicaeaTrebizond, and Epirus.


Empire in exile

After the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by Latin Crusaders, two Byzantine successor states were established: the Empire of Nicaea, and the Despotate of Epirus. A third one, the Empire of Trebizond was created a few weeks before the sack of Constantinople by Alexios I of Trebizond. Of these three successor states, Epirus and Nicaea stood the best chance of reclaiming Constantinople. The Nicaean Empire struggled, however, to survive the next few decades, and by the mid-thirteenth century it lost much of southern Anatolia. The weakening of the Sultanate of Rûm following the Mongol Invasion in 1242–43 allowed many Beyliks and ghazis to set up their own principalities in Anatolia, weakening the Byzantine hold on Asia Minor. In time, one of the Beys, Osman I, created an empire that would conquer Byzantium. However, the Mongol Invasion also gave Nicaea a temporary respite from Seljuk attacks allowing it to concentrate on the Latin Empire only north of its position.

Reconquest of Constantinople

The Byzantine Empire c. 1263.

The Empire of Nicaea, founded by the Laskarid dynasty, managed toreclaim Constantinople from the Latins in 1261 and defeat Epirus. This led to a short-lived revival of Byzantine fortunes under Michael VIII Palaiologos, but the war-ravaged empire was ill-equipped to deal with the enemies that now surrounded it. In order to maintain his campaigns against the Latins, Michael pulled troops from Asia Minor, and levied crippling taxes on the peasantry, causing much resentment. Massive construction projects were completed in Constantinople to repair the damages of the Fourth Crusade, but none of these initiatives was of any comfort to the farmers in Asia Minor, suffering raids from fanatical ghazis.

Rather than holding on to his possessions in Asia Minor, Michael chose to expand the Empire, gaining only short-term success. To avoid another sacking of the capital by the Latins, he forced the Church to submit to Rome, again a temporary solution for which the peasantry hated Michael and Constantinople. The efforts of Andronikos II and later his grandson Andronikos III marked Byzantium’s last genuine attempts in restoring the glory of the empire. However, the use of mercenaries by Andronikos II would often backfire, with the Catalan Company ravaging the countryside and increasing resentment towards Constantinople.

Rise of the Ottomans and fall of Constantinople

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The siege of Constantinople in 1453 according to a fifteenth century French miniature.

Things went worse for Byzantium during the civil wars that followed after Andronikos III died. A six-year long civil war devastated the empire, and an earthquake at Gallipoli in 1354 devastated the fort, allowing the Ottomans (who were hired as mercenaries during the civil war by John VI Kantakouzenos) to establish themselves in Europe.By the time the Byzantine civil wars had ended, the Ottomans had defeated the Serbians and subjugated them as vassals. Following the Battle of Kosovo, much of the Balkans became dominated by the Ottomans.

Eastern Mediterranean just before the fall of Constantinople.

The Emperors appealed to the west for help, but the Pope would only consider sending aid in return for a reunion of the Eastern Orthodox Church with the See of Rome. Church unity was considered, and occasionally accomplished by imperial decree, but the Orthodox citizenry and clergy intensely resented the authority of Rome and the Latin Rite. Some western troops arrived to bolster the Christian defence of Constantinople, but most Western rulers, distracted by their own affairs, did nothing as the Ottomans picked apart the remaining Byzantine territories.

Constantinople by this stage was underpopulated and dilapidated. The population of the city had collapsed so severely that it was now little more than a cluster of villages separated by fields. On 2 April 1453, Sultan Mehmed’s army of some 80,000 men and large numbers of irregulars laid siege to the city. Despite a desperate last-ditch defense of the city by the massively outnumbered Christian forces (c. 7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreign), Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans after a two-month siege on 29 May 1453. The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, was last seen casting off his imperial regalia and throwing himself into hand-to-hand combat after the walls of the city were taken.


Mehmed II went on to conquer the Greek statelets of Mistra in 1460 and Trebizond in 1461. The nephew of the last Emperor, Constantine XI, Andreas Palaeologos had inherited the defunct title ofByzantine Emperor and used it from 1465 until his death in 1503. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Empire had established its firm rule over Asia Minor and parts of the Balkan peninsula. Mehmed II and his successors continued to consider themselves proper heirs to the Byzantine Empire until the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, the Danubian Principalities harboured Orthodox refugees, including some Byzantine nobles.

At his death, the role of the emperor as a patron of Eastern Orthodoxy was claimed by Ivan IIIGrand Duke of Muscovy. He had married Andreas’ sister, Sophia Paleologue, whose grandson, Ivan IV, would become the first Tsar of Russia (tsar, or czar, meaning caesar, is a term traditionally applied by Slavs to the Byzantine Emperors). Their successors supported the idea that Moscow was the proper heir to Rome and Constantinople. The idea of the Russian Empire as the new, Third Rome was kept alive until its demise with the Russian Revolution of 1917.


One of the economic foundations of the empire was trade. Textiles must have been by far the most important item of export; silks were certainly imported into Egypt, and appeared also in Bulgaria, and the West. The state strictly controlled both the internal and the international trade, and retained the monopoly of issuing coinage. The government exercised formal control over interest rates, and set the parameters for the activity of the guilds and corporations, in which it had a special interest. The emperor and his officials intervened at times of crisis to ensure the provisioning of the capital, and to keep down the price of cereals. Finally, the government often collected part of the surplus through taxation, and put it back into circulation, through redistribution in the form of salaries to state officials, or in the form of investment in public works.The Byzantine economy was among the most advanced in Europe and the Mediterranean for many centuries. Europe, in particular, was unable to match Byzantine economic strength until late in the Middle Ages. Constantinople was a prime hub in a trading network that at various times extended across nearly all of Eurasiaand North Africa, in particular being the primary western terminus of the famous silk road. Some scholars argue that, up until the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century, the Empire had the most powerful economy in the world. The Arab conquests, however, would represent a substantial reversal of fortunes contributing to a period of decline and stagnation. Constantine V’s reforms (c. 765) marked the beginning of a revival that continued until 1204. From the tenth century until the end of the twelfth, the Byzantine Empire projected an image of luxury, and the travelers were impressed by the wealth accumulated in the capital. All this changed with the arrival of the Fourth Crusade, which was an economic catastrophe. The Palaiologoi tried to revive the economy, but the late Byzantine state would not gain full control of either the foreign or domestic economic forces. Gradually, it also lost its influence on the modalities of trade and the price mechanisms, and its control over the outflow of precious metals and, according to some scholars, even over the minting of coins.

Science, medicine, law


The frontispiece of the Vienna Dioscurides, which shows a set of seven famous physicians.

The writings of Classical antiquity never ceased to be cultivated in Byzantium. Therefore, Byzantine science was in every period closely connected with ancient philosophy, and metaphysics. Although at various times the Byzantines made magnificent achievements in the application of the sciences (notably in the construction of the Hagia Sophia), after the sixth century Byzantine scholars made few novel contributions to science in terms of developing new theories or extending the ideas of classical authors.Scholarship particularly lagged during the dark years of plague and the Arab conquests, but then during the so-called Byzantine Renaissance at the end of the first millennium Byzantine scholars re-asserted themselves becoming experts in the scientific developments of the Arabs and Persians, particularly in astronomy and mathematics.

In the final century of the Empire, Byzantine grammarians were those principally responsible for carrying, in person and in writing, ancient Greek grammatical and literary studies to early Renaissance Italy.During this period, astronomy and other mathematical sciences were taught in Trebizond; medicine attracted the interest of almost all scholars.

In the field of law, Justinian I‘s reforms had a clear effect on the evolution of jurisprudence, and Leo III’sEcloga influenced the formation of legal institutions in the Slavic world.


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As a symbol and expression of the universal prestige of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Justinian built the Church of the Holy Wisdom of God, Hagia Sophia, which was completed in the short period of four and a half years (532–537).

Location Istanbul (historicallyConstantinopleTurkey
Designer Isidore of Miletus
Anthemius of Tralles
Type Currently a Museum, formerly an ImperialMosque and Roman Catholic Cathedral; originally constructed as an Eastern Orthodox Church.
Material Ashlarbrick
Length 82 m (269 ft)
Width 73 m (240 ft)
Height 55 m (180 ft)
Beginning date 532
Completion date 537

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Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions (Above)

(Immediately after the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was converted into the Ayasofya Mosque. As described by several Western visitors (such as theCórdoban nobleman Pero Tafur and the Florentine Cristoforo Buondelmonti), the church was in a dilapidated state, with several of its doors were off; sultan Mehmed II ordered the cleanup of the church and its conversion. The subsequent sultan, Bayezid II, had a new minaret built to replace that erected by his father.)

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The survival of the Empire in the East assured an active role of the Emperor in the affairs of the Church. The Byzantine state inherited from pagan times the administrative, and financial routine of administering religious affairs, and this routine was applied to the Christian Church. Following the pattern set by Eusebius of Caesarea, the Byzantines viewed the Emperor as a representative or messenger of Christ, responsible particularly for the propagation of Christianity among pagans, and for the “externals” of the religion, such as administration and finances. The imperial role, however, in the affairs of the Church never developed into a fixed, legally defined system.

Christianity was never fully united and the Christians in the Byzantine Empire were diverse throughout the Empire’s history. The state church of the Roman Empire, which came to be known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, never represented all Christians in the Empire. Nestorianism, a view promoted by Nestorius who was a fifth century Patriarch of Constantinople, split from the imperial church leading to what is today the Assyrian Church of the East. In a greater schism during the sixth century the Oriental Orthodox churches split from the imperial church over the declarations of the Council of Chalcedon. Aside from these communions, Arianism and other Christian sects existed in the early Empire, although by the time of Rome’s fall in the fifth century Arianism was mostly confined to the Germanic peoples of Western Europe. By the Empire’s late stages, though, Eastern Orthodoxy represented most Christians in what remained of the Empire. Jews were a significant minority in the Empire throughout its history. Despite periods of persecution, they were generally tolerated, if not always embraced, during most periods. From 70, they were subject to a special tax which may have existed into the Middle Ages.

With the decline of Rome, and internal dissension in the other Eastern patriarchates, the church of Constantinople became, between the sixth and eleventh centuries, the richest and most influential center of Christendom. Even when the Empire was reduced to only a shadow of its former self, the Church, as an institution, had never exercised so much influence both inside and outside of the imperial frontiers. As George Ostrogorsky points out:

The Patriarchate of Constantinople remained the center of the Orthodox world, with subordinate metropolitan sees and archbishoprics in the territory of Asia Minor and the Balkans, now lost to Byzantium, as well as in Caucasus, Russia andLithuania. The Church remained the most stable element in the Byzantine Empire.

Art and literature


Miniatures of the sixth century Rabula Gospel display the more abstract and symbolic nature of Byzantine art.

Byzantine art is almost entirely concerned with religious expression and, more specifically, with the impersonal translation of carefully controlled church theology into artistic terms. Byzantine forms were spread by trade and conquest to Italy and Sicily, where they persisted in modified form through the twelfth century, and became formative influences on Italian Renaissance art. By means of the expansion of the Eastern Orthodox church, Byzantine forms spread to eastern European centers, particularly Russia. Influences from Byzantine architecture, particularly in religious buildings, can be found in diverse regions from Egypt and Arabia to Russia and Romania.

In Byzantine literature, therefore, four different cultural elements are to be reckoned with: theGreek, the Christian, the Roman, and the Oriental. Byzantine literature is often classified in five groups: historians and annalists, encyclopedists (Patriarch Photios, Michael Psellos, and Michael Choniates are regarded as the greatest encyclopedists of Byzantium) and essayists, and writers of secular poetry (The only genuine heroic epic of the Byzantines is the Digenis Acritas). The remaining two groups include the new literary species: ecclesiastical and theological literature, and popular poetry. Of the approximately two to three thousand volumes of Byzantine literature that survive, only three hundred and thirty consist of secular poetry, history, science and pseudo-science.[127] While the most flourishing period of the secular literature of Byzantium runs from the ninth to the twelfth century, its religious literature (sermonsliturgical books and poetry, theology, devotional treatises etc.) developed much earlier with Romanos the Melodist being its most prominent representative.

Government and bureaucracy

The themes c. 650. The themes c. 950.

In the Byzantine state, the emperor was the sole and absolute ruler, and his power was regarded as having divine origin. By the end of the eighth century, a civil administration focused on the court was formed as part of a large-scale consolidation of power in the capital (the rise to pre-eminence of the position of sakellarios is related to this change). The most important reform of this period is the creation of themes, where civil and military administration is exercised by one person, the strategos.

Despite the occasionally derogatory use of the word “Byzantine”, the Byzantine bureaucracy had a distinct ability for reinventing itself in accordance with the Empire’s situation. The Byzantine system of titulature and precedence makes the imperial administration look like an ordered bureaucracy to modern observers. Officials were arranged in strict order around the emperor, and depended upon the imperial will for their ranks. There were also actual administrative jobs, but authority could be vested in individuals rather than offices. In the eighth and ninth centuries, civil service constituted the clearest path to aristocratic status, but, starting in the ninth century, the civil aristocracy was rivaled by an aristocracy of nobility. According to some studies of Byzantine government, eleventh century politics were dominated by competition between the civil and the military aristocracy. During this period, Alexios I undertook important administrative reforms, including the creation of new courtly dignities and offices.


For more details on this topic, see Byzantine diplomacy.

After the fall of Rome, the key challenge to the Empire was to maintain a set of relations between itself and its neighbors. When these nations set about forging formal political institutions, they often modeled themselves on Constantinople. Byzantine diplomacy soon managed to draw its neighbors into a network of international and inter-state relations. This network revolved around treaty making, and included the welcoming of the new ruler into the family of kings, and the assimilation of Byzantine social attitudes, values and institutions.Whereas classical writers are fond of making ethical and legal distinctions between peace and war, Byzantines regarded diplomacy as a form of war by other means. For example, a Bulgarian threat could be countered by providing money to the Kievian Rus. The Orthodox Church also maintained a diplomatic function, and the spread of Orthodox Christianity was a key diplomatic goal of the Empire.

Diplomacy in the era was understood to have an intelligence-gathering function on top of its pure political function. The Bureau of Barbariansin Constantinople handled matters of protocol and record keeping for any matters dealing with “Barbarians”, and thus had, perhaps, a basic intelligence function itself. J.B. Bury believed that the office exercised supervision over all foreigners visiting Constantinople, and that they were under the supervision of the Logothete of the Course. While on the surface a protocol office—its main duty was to ensure foreign envoys were properly cared for and received sufficient state funds for their maintenance, and it kept all the official translators—it clearly had a security function as well. On Strategy, from the sixth century, offers advice about foreign embassies: “[Envoys] who are sent to us should be received honourably and generously, for everyone holds envoys in high esteem. Their attendants, however, should be kept under surveillance to keep them from obtaining any information by asking questions of our people.

Byzantines availed themselves of a number of diplomatic practices. For example, embassies to the capital would often stay on for years. A member of other royal houses would routinely be requested to stay on in Constantinople, not only as a potential hostage, but also as a useful pawn in case political conditions where he came from changed. Another key practice was to overwhelm visitors by sumptuous displays.According to Dimitri Obolensky, the preservation of civilization in Eastern Europe was due to the skill and resourcefulness of Byzantine diplomacy, which remains one of Byzantium’s lasting contributions to the history of Europe.


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The Mudil Psalter, the oldest completepsalter in the Coptic language (Coptic Museum, Egypt, Coptic Cairo).

The original language of the government of the Empire, which owed its origins to Rome, had been Latin and this continued to be its official language until the seventh century AD when it was effectively changed to Greek by HeracliusScholarly Latin would rapidly fall into disuse among the educated classes although the language would continue to be at least a ceremonial part of the Empire’s culture for some time. Additionally, Vulgar Latin continued to be a minority language in the Empire, and among the Thraco-Roman populations it gave birth to the (Proto-)Romanianlanguage. Likewise, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, another neo-Latin vernacular developed, which would later give rise to the Dalmatian language. In the Western Mediterranean provinces temporarily acquired under the reign of Justinian I, Latin (eventually evolving into Italian) continued to be used both as a spoken language and the language of scholarship.

Apart from the Imperial court, administration and military, the primary language used in the eastern Roman provinces even before the decline of the Western Empire had always been Greek, having been spoken in the region for centuries before Latin. Indeed early on in the life of the Roman Empire, Greek had become the common language in the Christian Church, the language of scholarship and the arts, and, to a large degree, the lingua franca for trade between provinces and with other nations. The language itself for a time gained a dual nature with the primary spoken language, Koine, existing alongside an older literary language with Koine eventually evolving into the standard dialect.

Many other languages existed in the multi-ethnic Empire as well, and some of these were given limited official status in their provinces at various times. Notably, by the beginning of the Middle Ages, Syriac and Aramaic had become more widely used by the educated classes in the far eastern provinces.Similarly CopticArmenian, and Georgian became significant among the educated in their provinces,[145] and later foreign contacts made the Slavonic, Vlach, and Arabic languages important in the Empire and its sphere of influence.

Aside from these, since Constantinople was a prime trading center in the Mediterranean region and beyond, virtually every known language of the Middle Ages was spoken in the Empire at some time, even Chinese.[147] As the Empire entered its final decline, the Empire’s citizens became more culturally homogeneous and the Greek language became integral to their identity and their religion.


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King David in robes of a Byzantine Emperor. Miniature from the Paris Psalter.

As the only stable long-term state in Europe during the Middle Ages, Byzantium isolated Western Europe from newly emerging forces to the East. Constantly under attack, it distanced Western Europe from Persians, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, and for a time, the Ottomans. The Byzantine-Arab Wars, for example, are recognized by some historians as being a key factor behind the rise ofCharlemagne, and a huge stimulus to feudalism and economic self-sufficiency.

For centuries, western historians used the terms Byzantine and Byzantinism as bywords for decadence, duplicitous politics and complex bureaucracy, and there was a strongly negative assessment of Byzantine civilization and its legacy in Southeastern EuropeByzantinism in general was defined as a body of religious, political, and philosophical ideas which ran contrary to those of the West. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, have seen attempts by historians in the West to understand the Empire in a more balanced and accurate fashion including its influences on the West, and as a result the complex character of Byzantine culture has received more attention and a more objective treatment than previously.

If the existence of the Ancient Roman Empire (including the Western Roman Empire) and that of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire be added, the whole Roman Empire had existed for 1480 years.

Hagia Sophia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and others

 Church of Hagia Sophia (Sophia as in Theia Sophia – the Holy Spirit of the Trinity) in Istanbul, built by Justinian on the site of Constantine’s grand church which was burned down in the riots of 532.  The task was carried out by over ten thousand workers and teams of hunter gatherers scouring the sites of ancient Asia Minor such as the Temple of Artarmis at Ephesus  for “spare” columns (which partly explains why this, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, now has only one column left). 

 The work took just six years, and was celebrated by an opening feast (or sacrifice as they called it) of 100 Oxen,  600 Stags, 1,000 Pigs, 6,000 Sheep, 10,000 Hens, and 10,000 Roosters.  The mosaic above shows Justinian giving a model of the church to the Virgin Mary, a representation common in churches throughout the middle ages.

Hagia Sophia
γία Σοφία

ViewFile:İstanbul-Ayasofya.JPG of the Hagia Sophia from Sultanahmet square

Location Istanbul (historicallyConstantinopleTurkey
Designer Isidore of Miletus
Anthemius of Tralles
Type Currently a Museum, formerly an ImperialMosque and Roman Catholic Cathedral; originally constructed as an Eastern Orthodox Church.
Material Ashlarbrick
Length 82 m (269 ft)
Width 73 m (240 ft)
Height 55 m (180 ft)
Beginning date 532
Completion date 537

Another interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements in the ceiling.

Interior view of the Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom“; LatinSancta Sophia or Sancta SapientiaTurkishAya Sofya) is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in IstanbulTurkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1934, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.

The Church was dedicated to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity,[2] itsdedication feast taking place on December 25, the anniversary of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia is the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom – the full name in Greek being Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”.

Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture.” It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having both been destroyed by rioters. It was designed byIsidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician.

The church contained a large collection of holy relics and featured, among other things, a 49 foot (15 m) silver iconostasis. It was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years. It is the church in which Cardinal Humbert in 1054 excommunicated Michael I Cerularius – which is commonly considered the start of the Great Schism.

In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who subsequently ordered the building converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed and many of the mosaics were plastered over. Islamic features — such as the mihrabminbar, and four minarets — were added while in the possession of the Ottomans. It remained a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum by the Republic of Turkey.

For almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia served as a model for many other Ottoman mosques, such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul), the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.


tFirst church

The first church was known as the Μεγάλη Ἐκκλησία (Megálē Ekklēsíā, “Great Church”), or in Latin “Magna Ecclesia”, because of its larger dimensions in comparison to the contemporary churches in the City. Inaugurated on 15 February 360 (during the reign of Constantius II) by the arian bishop Eudoxius of Antioch, it was built next to the area where the imperial palace was being developed. The nearby Hagia Eirene (“Holy Peace”) church was completed earlier and served as cathedral until the Hagia Sophia was completed. Both churches acted together as the principal churches of the Byzantine Empire.

Writing in 440, Socrates of Constantinople claimed that the church was built by Constantius II, who was working on it in 346. A tradition which is not older than the 7th – 8th century, reports that the edifice was built by Constantine the GreatZonaras reconciles the two opinion, writing that Constance had repaired the edifice consecrated by Eusebius of Nicomedia, after it had collapsed.Since Eusebius was bishop of Constantinople from 339 to 341, and Constantine died in 337, it seems possible that the first church was erected by the latter.The edifice was built as a traditional Latin colonnaded basilica with galleries and a wooden roof. It was preceded by an atrium. It was claimed to be one of the world’s most outstanding monuments at the time.

The Patriarch of Constantinople John Chrysostom came into a conflict with Empress Aelia Eudoxia, wife of the emperor Arcadius, and was sent into exile on 20 June 404. During the subsequent riots, this first church was largely burned down. Nothing remains of the first church today.

Second church

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Stone remains of the basilica ordered by Theodosius II, showing the Lamb of God

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Marble blocks from the second church

A second church was ordered by Theodosius II, who inaugurated it on 10 October 415. The basilica with a wooden roof was built by architect Rufinus. A fire started during the tumult of theNika Revolt burned the second Hagia Sophia to the ground on 13–14 January 532.

Several marble blocks from the second church survive to the present; among them are reliefsdepicting 12 lambs representing the 12 apostles. Originally part of a monumental front entrance, they now reside in an excavation pit adjacent to the museum’s entrance. Discovered in 1935 beneath the western courtyard by A. M. Schneider, further digging was forsaken for fear of impinging on the integrity of the Hagia Sophia.

Third church (current structure)

On 23 February 532, only a few days after the destruction of the second basilica, EmperorJustinian I elected to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors.

Construction of church depicted in codex Manasses Chronicle

Justinian chose physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius, however, died within the first year of the endeavor. The construction is described in the Byzantine historian Procopius‘ On Buildings (Peri ktismatōn, Latin: De aedificiis). The emperor had material brought from all over the empire – such asHellenistic columns from the Temple of Artemis atEphesus, large stones from quarries in porphyry fromEgypt, green marble from Thessaly, black stone from the Bosporus region, and yellow stone from Syria. More than ten thousand people were employed. This new church was contemporaneously recognized as a major work of architecture. The theories of Heron of Alexandria may have been utilized to address the challenges presented by building such an expansive dome over so large a space[citation needed]. The emperor, together with the patriarch Eutychius, inaugurated the new basilica on 27 December 537 with much pomp. The mosaics inside the church were, however, only completed under the reign of Emperor Justin II (565–578).

Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for Byzantine imperial ceremonies, such as coronations. The basilica also offered asylum to wrongdoers.

Earthquakes in August 553 and on 14 December 557 caused cracks in the main dome and eastern half-dome. The main dome collapsed completely during a subsiquent earthquake on 7 May 558, destroying the ambon, altar, and ciborium. The emperor ordered an immediate restoration. He entrusted it to Isidorus the Younger, nephew of Isidore of Miletus, who used lighter materials and elevated the dome by 6.25 metres (20.5 ft) – giving the building its current interior height of 55.6 metres (182 ft).[9] This reconstruction, giving the church its present 6th-century form, was completed in 562. The Byzantine poet Paul the Silentiary composed a long epic poem (still extant), known asEkphrasis, for the rededication of the basilica presided over by Patriarch Eutychius on 23 December 562.

In 726 the emperor Leo the Isaurian issued a series of edicts against the veneration of images, ordering the army to destroy all icons – ushering in the period of Byzantine iconoclasm. At that time, all religious pictures and statues were removed from the Hagia Sophia. After a brief reprieve under Empress Irene (797–802), the iconoclasts made a comeback. Emperor Theophilus (829–842) was strongly influenced byIslamic art, which forbids graven images. He had a two-winged bronze door with his monograms installed at the southern entrance of the church.

The basilica suffered damage, first in a great fire in 859, and again in an earthquake on 8 January 869, that made a half-dome collapse. Emperor Basil I ordered the church repaired.

After the great earthquake of 25 October 989, which ruined the great dome, the Byzantine emperor Basil II asked for the Armenian architectTrdat, creator of the great churches of Ani and Argina, to repair the dome. His main repairs were to the western arch and a portion of the dome. The extent of the damage required six years of repair and reconstruction; the church was re-opened on 13 May 994.

In his book De caerimoniis aulae Byzantinae (“Book of Ceremonies”), Emperor Constantine VII (913–919) wrote a detailed account of the ceremonies held in the Hagia Sophia by the emperor and the patriarch.

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19th Century marker of the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice who commanded the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, inside the Hagia Sophia

Upon the capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, the church was ransacked and desecrated by the Latin Christians. The Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates described the capture of Constantinople; many reputed relics from the church – such as a stone from the tomb ofJesus, the Virgin Mary‘s milk, the shroud of Jesus, and bones of several saints – were sent to churches in the West and can be seen there now in various museums. During the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204–1261) the church became a Roman Catholic cathedral.Baldwin I of Constantinople was crowned emperor on 16 May 1204 in Hagia Sophia, at a ceremony which closely followed Byzantine practices. Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice who commanded the sack and invasion of the city by the Latin Crusaders in 1204, is buried inside the church. The tomb inscription carrying his name, which has become a part of the floor decoration, was spat upon by many of the angry Byzantines who recaptured Constantinople in 1261. However, restoration carried out during the period 1847–1849 cast doubt upon the authenticity of the doge’s grave; it is more likely a symbolic memorial rather than burial site.

After the recapture in 1261 by the Byzantines, the church was in a dilapidated state. The four buttresses in the west were possibly built during this time. In 1317, emperor Andronicus II ordered four new buttresses to be built in the eastern and northern parts of the church. New cracks developed in the dome after the earthquake of October 1344, and several parts of the building collapsed on 19 May 1346; consequently, the church was closed until 1354, when repairs were undertaken by architects Astras and Peralta.

Transition between Church and Mosque

In 1453 Sultan Mehmed laid siege to Constantinople, driven in part by a desire to convert the city to Islam.  The Sultan promised his troops three days of unbridled pillage if the city fell, after which he would claim its contents himself.  The Hagia Sophia was not exempted from the pillage, becoming its focal point as the invaders believed it to contain the greatest treasures of the city. Shortly after the city’s defenses collapsed, pillagers made their way to the Hagia Sophia and battered down its doors.  Throughout the siege the Holy Liturgy and Prayer of the Hours were performed at the Hagia Sophia, and the church formed a refuge for many of those who were unable to contribute to the city’s defense. Trapped in the church, congregants and refugees became booty to be divided amongst the invaders. The building was desecrated and looted, and occupants enslaved or slaughtered; a few of the elderly and infirm were killed, and the remainder chained.Priests purportedly continued to perform Christian rites until stopped by the invaders. When the Sultan and his cohort entered the church, one of the Ulama climbed the pulpit and recited the Shahada, transforming at once the church into a mosque.


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Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions

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The mihrab located in the apse where the altar used to stand, pointing towards Mecca

Immediately after the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was converted into the Ayasofya Mosque. As described by several Western visitors (such as theCórdoban nobleman Pero Tafurand the Florentine Cristoforo Buondelmonti), the church was in a dilapidated state, with several of its doors were off; sultan Mehmed II ordered the cleanup of the church and its conversion. The subsequent sultan, Bayezid II, had a new minaret built to replace that erected by his father.

In the 16th century the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) brought back two colossal candles from his conquest of Hungary. They were placed on both sides of the mihrab. During the reign of Selim II (1566–1577), the building started showing signs of fatigue and was extensively strengthened with the addition of structural supports to its exterior by the great Ottoman architectMimar Sinan, who is also considered one of the world’s first earthquake engineers. In addition to strengthening the historic Byzantine structure, Sinan built the two additional large minarets at the western end of the building, the original sultan’s loge, and the mausoleum of Selim II to the southeast of the building (then a mosque) in 1577. The mausoleums of Murad III and Mehmed IIIwere built next to it in the 17th century.

Later additions were the sultan’s gallery, a minbar decorated with marble, a dais for a sermon and a loggia for a muezzin.

The sultan Murad III (1574–1595) had two large alabaster Hellenistic urns transported fromPergamon and placed on two sides of the nave.

Sultan Mahmud I ordered the restoration of the building in 1739 and added a medrese (a Koranic school, now the library of the museum), a soup kitchen (for distribution to the poor) and a library, and in 1740 a fountain for ritual ablutions (Şadirvan), thus transforming it into a külliye, i.e. a social complex. At the same time a new sultan’s gallery and a new mihrab were built inside.

The most famous restoration of the Hagia Sophia was ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid and completed by eight hundred workers between 1847 and 1849, under the supervision of the Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. The brothers consolidated the dome and vaults, straightened the columns, and revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior of the building. The mosaics in the upper gallery were cleaned. The old chandeliers were replaced by new pendant ones. New gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions were hung on columns. They were inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs Abu BakrUmarUthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain, by the calligrapher Kazasker İzzed Effendi (1801–1877). In 1850 the architect Fossati built a new sultan’s gallery in a Neo-Byzantine style connected to the royal pavilion behind the mosque. Outside the Hagia Sophia, a timekeeper’s building and a new madrasah were built. The minarets were altered so that they were of equal height. When the restoration was finished, the mosque was re-opened with ceremonial pomp on 13 July 1849.

Museum, current use

In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum. The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster covering many of the mosaics was painstakingly removed by expert restorers.[22] Turkish fine art photographer Ahmet Ertuğ‘s close-up pictures of the restored mosaics can be viewed in the upper northern gallery of the Hagia Sophia in a permanent exhibition.[23] The museum’s hours are 9.30am to 4.30pm, Tuesday through Sunday; entry fee is 20 TL, or free with the use of a Museum Card.

Use of the complex as a place of worship (mosque or church) is strictly prohibited.However, in 2006, it was reported that the Turkish government allowed the allocation of a small room in the museum complex to be used as a prayer room for Christian and Muslim museum staff.



A section of the original architecture of Hagia Sophia


Groundplan of the Hagia Sophia

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One of the mighty stone columns with metal clasps.

Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Of great artistic value was its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian proclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” (Νενίκηκά σε Σολομών). Justinian himself had overseen the completion of the greatest cathedral ever built up to that time, and it was to remain the largest cathedral for 1,000 years up until the completion of the cathedral in Seville in Spain.

Justinian’s basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern OrthodoxRoman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike. The largest columns are of granite, about 19 or 20 metres high and at least 1.5 metres in diameter; the largest weigh well over 70 tons apiece. Under Justinian’s orders, eight Corinthian columns were disassembled from BaalbekLebanon and shipped to Constantinople for the construction of Hagia Sophia.

The vast interior has a complex structure. The nave is covered by a central dome 55.6 metres (182 ft 5 in) from floor level, supported in part by an arcade of 40 arched windows. Repairs to structure have left the dome somewhat elliptical – with the diameter varying between 31.24 m (102 ft 6 in) and 30.86 m (101 ft 3 in).

The dome is carried on four concave triangular pendentives that serve to transition from the circular base of the dome to its rectangular base. The weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners; these were reinforced with buttresses during Ottoman times, under the guidance of the architect Mimar Sinan.

At the western entrance and eastern liturgical side, the arched openings are extended by half domes carried on smaller semi-domed exedras; a hierarchy of dome-headed elements built up to create a vast oblong interior, crowned by the main dome. Despite all of the aforementioned features, the weight of the dome remained a problem, requiring the addition of external buttresses.

Interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry, and gold mosaics.

The exterior, clad in stucco, was tinted yellow and red during a restorations in the 19th century on the direction of the architect Fossati.


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Interior of the Hagia Sophia by John Singer Sargent, 1891

The dome of Hagia Sophia has spurred particular interest for many art historians, architects and engineers because of the innovative way the original architects envisioned the dome. The dome is supported by pendentives which had never been used before the building of this structure. The pendentive enables the dome to transition gracefully into the square shape of the piers below. The pendentives not only achieve a pleasing aesthetic quality, but they also restrain the lateral forces of the dome and allow the weight of the dome to flow downward.

Although this design stabilizes the dome and the surrounding walls and arches, the actual construction of the walls of Hagia Sophia weakened the overall structure. The bricklayers used more mortar than brick, which weakened the walls. The structure would have been more stable if the builders at least let the mortar cure before they began the next layer; however, they did not do this. When the dome was placed atop the building, the weight of the dome caused the walls to lean outward because of the wet mortar underneath. When Isidorus the Younger rebuilt the original dome, he had to first build up the interior of the walls so that they were vertical in order to support the weight of the new dome. Another probable change in the design of the dome when it was rebuilt was the actual height of the dome. Isidore the Younger raised the height of the dome by approximately six metres so that the lateral forces would not be as strong and the weight of the dome would flow more easily down the walls.

A second interesting fact about the original structure of the dome was how the architects were able to place forty windows around the base of the dome. Hagia Sophia is famous for the mystical quality of light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, which gives the dome the appearance of hovering above the nave. This design is possible because the dome is shaped like ascalloped shell or the inside of an umbrella with ribs that extend from the top of the dome down to the base. These ribs allow the weight of the dome to flow between the windows, down the pendentives, and ultimately to the foundation.

The unique character of the design of Hagia Sophia shows how this structure is one of the most advanced and ambitious monuments of late antiquity.

Lustration urns

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Lustration urn from Pergamon

Two huge marble lustration urns were brought from Pergamon during the reign of Sultan Murad III. Originally from the Hellenistic period, they are carved from single blocks of marble.

Narthex and portals

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Imperial Gate

The Imperial Gate was the main entrance between the exo- and esonarthex. It was reserved only for the emperor. The Byzantine mosaic above the portal depicts Christ and Emperor Leo VI the Wise.

A long ramp from the northern part of the outer narthex leads up to the upper gallery.

Upper Gallery

The upper gallery is laid out in a horseshoe shape that encloses the nave until the apse. Several mosaics are preserved in the upper gallery, an area traditionally reserved for the empress and her court. The best-preserved mosaics are located in the southern part of the gallery.

Loge of the Empress

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The Loge of the Empress

The Loge of the Empress is located in the centre of the upper enclosure, or gallery, of the Hagia Sophia. From there the empress and the court-ladies would watch the proceedings down below. A round, green stone marks the spot where the throne of the empress stood.

Marble Door

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Marble Door

The Marble Door inside the Hagia Sophia is located in the southern upper enclosure, or gallery. It was used by the participants in synods, they entered and left the meeting chamber through this door.


Originally, under Justinian’s reign, the interior decorations consisted of abstract designs of the marble slabs on the walls and mosaics on the curving vaults. Of these, one can still see the twoarchangels Gabriel and Michael in the spandrels of the bema. There were already a few figurative decorations, as attested by the eulogy of Paul the Silentiary. The spandrels of the gallery are revetted in opus sectile, showing patterns and figures of flowers and birds in precisely cut pieces of white marble set against a background of black marble. In later stages figurative mosaics were added, which were destroyed during the iconoclastic controversy (726–843). Present mosaics are from the post-iconoclastic period. The number of treasures, relics and miracle-working, painted icons of the Hagia Sophia grew progressively richer into an amazing collection. Apart from the mosaics, a large number of figurative decorations were added during the second half of the 9th century: an image of Christ in the central dome; Orthodox saints, prophets and Church Fathers in the tympana below; historical figures connected with this church, such asPatriarch Ignatius; some scenes from the gospel in the galleries.


File:Upper gallery Hagia Sophia 2007 007.jpg

Mosaics with geometric pattern decorate the upper imperial gallery

The church was richly decorated with mosaics throughout the centuries. They either depicted the Virgin Mother, Jesus, saints, or emperors and empresses. Other parts were decorated in a purely decorative style with geometric patterns.

During the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, the Latin Crusaders vandalized valuable items in every important Byzantine structure of the city, including the golden mosaics of the Hagia Sophia. Many of these items were shipped to Venice, whose DogeEnrico Dandolo, had organized the invasion and sack of Constantinople.

Following the building’s conversion into a mosque in 1453, many of its mosaics were covered with plaster, due to Islam‘s ban on representational imagery. This process was not completed at once, and reports exist from the 17th century in which travellers note that they could still see Christian images in the former church. In 1847–49, the building was restored by two Swiss Italian brothers, Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati, and Sultan Abdülmecid allowed them to also document any mosaics they might discover during this process. This work did not include repairing the mosaics and after recording the details about an image, the Fossatis painted it over again. This work included covering the previously uncovered faces of two seraphim mosaics located in the centre of the building. The building currently features a total of four of these images and two of them are restorations in paint created by the Fossatis to replace two images of which they could find no surviving remains. In other cases, the Fossatis recreated damaged decorative mosaic patterns in paint, sometimes redesigning them in the process. The Fossati records are the primary sources about a number of mosaic images now believed to have been completely or partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1894. These include a great mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the dome, a mosaic over a now-unidentified Door of the Poor, a large image of a jewel-encrusted cross, and a large number of images of angelssaintspatriarchs, and church fathers. Most of the missing images were located in the building’s two tympana. The Fossatis also added a pulpit (minbar) and the four large medallions on the walls of the nave bearing the names of Muhammad and Islam’s first caliphs.

Imperial gate mosaics

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Imperial Gate mosaic

  • Imperial Gate mosaics: located in the tympanum above the gate, used only by the emperors when entering the church. Based on style analysis, it has been dated to the late 9th or early 10th century. The emperor with a nimbus or halo could possibly represent emperor Leo VI the Wise or his son Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus bowing down before Christ Pantocrator, seated on a jeweled throne, giving His blessing and holding in His left hand an open book.[28]The text on the book reads as follows: “Peace be with you. I am the light of the world”. (John 20:19; 20:26; 8:12) On each side of Christ’s shoulders is a circular medallion: on His left the Archangel Gabriel , holding a staff, on His right His Mother Mary. These mosaics express the timeless power bestowed on the Byzantine emperors by Christ.

Southwestern entrance mosaic

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Virgin and Child flanked by Justinian I and Constantine I

  • Southwestern entrance mosaics, situated in the tympanum of the southwestern entrance, date from 944. They were rediscovered during the restorations of 1849 by Fossati. The Virgin sits on a throne without a back, her feet resting on a pedestal, embellished with precious stones. The Child Christ sits on her lap, giving His blessing and holding a scroll in His left hand. On her left side stands emperor Constantine in ceremonial attire, presenting a model of the city to Mary. The inscription next to him says: “Great emperor Constantine of the Saints”. On her right side stands emperor Justinian I, offering a model of the Hagia Sophia. The medallions on both sides of the Virgin’s head carry the monograms MP and ΘY, an abbreviation of “Mētēr” and “Theou“, meaning “Mother of God”.

Apse mosaics

File:Hagia Sophia Interior Virgin 2007.JPG

Apse mosaic of the Theotokos (Virgin Mother and Child)

  • Virgin and Child: this was the first of the post-iconoclastic mosaics. It was inaugurated on 29 March 867 by Patriarch Photius and the emperors Michael III and Basil I. This mosaic is situated in a high location on the half dome of the apse. Mary is sitting on a throne without a back, holding the Child Jesus on her lap. Her feet rest on a pedestal. Both the pedestal and the throne are adorned with precious stones. These mosaics are believed to be a reconstruction of the mosaics of the 6th century that were previously destroyed during the iconoclastic era. The mosaics are set against the original golden background of the 6th century. The portraits of the archangels Gabriel and Michael (largely destroyed) in the bema of the arch also date from the 9th century.

Emperor Alexander mosaic

  • The Emperor Alexander mosaic is not easy to find for the first-time visitor, located in the second floor in a dark corner of the ceiling. It depicts Emperor Alexander in full regalia, holding a scroll in his right hand and a globus cruciger in his left. A drawing by Fossati showed that the mosaic survived until 1849, and that Thomas Whittemore, founder of the Byzantine Institute of America who was granted permission to preserve the mosaics, assumed that it had been destroyed in the earthquake of 1894. Eight years after his death, the mosaic was discovered in 1958 largely through the researches of Robert Van Nice. Unlike most of the other mosaics in Hagia Sophia, which had been covered over by ordinary plaster, the Alexander mosaic was simply painted over and reflected the surrounding mosaic patterns and thus was well hidden. It was duly cleaned by the Byzantine Institute’s successor to Whittemore, Paul A. Underwood.

Empress Zoe mosaics

Empress Zoe mosaics

  • The Empress Zoe mosaics on the eastern wall of the southern gallery date from the 11th century. Christ Pantocrator, clad in the dark blue robe (as always the custom in Byzantine art), is seated in the middle against a golden background, giving His blessing with the right hand and holding the Bible in His left hand. On either side of His head are the monograms IC andXC, meaning Iēsous Khristos. He is flanked by Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe, both in ceremonial costumes. He is offering a purse, as symbol of the donation he made to the church, while she is holding a scroll, symbol of the donations she made. The inscription over the head of the emperor says : “Constantine, pious emperor in Christ the God, king of the Romans, Monomachus”. The inscription over the head of the empress reads as follows : “Zoë, the very pious Augusta”. The previous heads have been scraped off and replaced by the three present ones. Perhaps the earlier mosaic showed her first husband Romanus III Argyrus or her adopted son Michael IV. Another theory is that these mosaics were made for an earlier emperor and empress, with their heads changed into the present ones.

Comnenus mosaics

Comnenus mosaic

  • The Comnenus mosaics, equally located on the eastern wall of the southern gallery, date from 1122. The Virgin Mary is standing in the middle, depicted, as usual in Byzantine art, in a dark blue gown. She holds the Child Christ on her lap. He gives His blessing with His right hand while holding a scroll in His left hand. On her right side stands emperor John II Comnenus, represented in a garb embellished with precious stones. He holds a purse, symbol of an imperial donation to the church. Empress Irene stands on the left side of the Virgin, wearing ceremonial garments and offering a document. Their eldest son Alexius Comnenus is represented on an adjacent pilaster. He is shown as a beardless youth, probably representing his appearance at his coronation aged seventeen. In this panel one can already see a difference with the Empress Zoe mosaics that is one century older. There is a more realistic expression in the portraits instead of an idealized representation. The empress is shown with plaited blond hair, rosy cheeks and grey eyes, revealing her Hungarian descent. The emperor is depicted in a dignified manner.

Deësis mosaic


The Deësis mosaic with Christ as ruler

Detail of Deësis mosaic

  • The Deësis (‘Δέησις’ in Greek, meaning Entreaty) mosaic probably dates from 1261. It was commissioned to mark the end of 57 years of Roman Catholic use and the return to the Orthodox faith. It is the third panel situated in the imperial enclosure of the upper galleries. It is widely considered the finest in Hagia Sophia, because of the softness of the features, the humane expressions and the tones of the mosaic. The style is close to that of the Italian painters of the late 13th or early 14th century, such as Duccio. In this panel the Virgin Maryand John the Baptist (Ioannes Prodromos), both shown in three-quarters profile, are imploring the intercession of Christ Pantocrator for humanity on Judgment Day. The bottom part of this mosaic is badly deteriorated, probably due to rain since the mosaic is next to the windows. This mosaic is considered as the beginning of the Renaissance in Byzantine pictorial art.

Northern tympanon mosaics

Mosaic in the northern tympanon depicting Saint John Chrysostom

  • The northern tympanon mosaics feature various saints. They have been able to survive due to the very high and unreachable location. They depict Saints John Chrysostom and Ignatius the Younger standing, clothed in white robes with crosses, and holding richly jewelled Holy Bibles. The names of each saint is given around the statues in Greek, in order to enable an identification for the visitor. The other mosaics in the other tympani have not survived probably due to the frequent earthquakes as opposed to any deliberate destruction by the Ottoman conquerors.

20th-century restoration

The interior of the dome undergoing restoration

A large number of mosaics were uncovered in the 1930s by a team from the Byzantine Institute of America led by Thomas Whittemore. The team chose to let a number of simple cross images remain covered by plaster, but uncovered all major mosaics found.

Because of its long history as both a church and a mosque, a particular challenge arises in the restoration process. The Christian iconographic mosaics are being gradually uncovered. However, in order to do so, important, historic Islamic art would have to be destroyed. Restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures. In particular, much controversy rests upon whether the Islamic calligraphy on the dome of the cathedral should be removed, in order to permit the underlying Pantocrator mosaic of Christ as Master of the World, to be exhibited (assuming the mosaic still exists).


One of the minarets (at southwest) was built from red brick while the other three were built from white limestone and sand stone; of which the slender one at northeast was erected by SultanBayezid II while the two larger minarets at west were erected by Sultan Selim II and designed by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan.[citation needed]

See also

Fall of Constantinople

Fall of Constantinople

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the 1453 siege. For earlier attacks on Constantinople, see Sieges of Constantinople.

Siege of Constantinople
Part of the Byzantine-Ottoman wars and Ottoman wars in Europe
Siege of Constantinople.jpg
The Siege of Constantinople (painted 1499).
Date April 6, 1453 – May 29, 1453
Location Constantinople (present-day Istanbul)
Result Decisive Ottoman victory;[1]
End of the Byzantine Empire;
Constantinople made Ottoman capital;
Beginning of Christendom‘s modern age
Byzantine Empire Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Constantine XI
Loukas Notaras
Giovanni Giustiniani [2]
Mehmed II
Zağanos Pasha
Suleiman Baltoghlu
26 ships[4]
70 ships[7]20 galleys[8]
Casualties and losses
4,000 killed[9] Unknown

The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire which occurred after a siege by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Sultan Mehmed II. The siege lasted from Friday, 6 April 1453 until Tuesday, 29 May 1453 (according to the Julian Calendar), when the city was conquered by the Ottomans. Constantinople was defended by the army of Emperor Constantine XI. The event marked the end of the political independence of the millennium-old Byzantine Empire, which was by then already fragmented into several Greek monarchies.

Following his accession to the Ottoman throne, Mehmed applied pressure on Constantinople and the Byzantines by building forts along the Dardanelles. On 5 April, he laid siege to Constantinople with an army numbering 80,000 to 200,000 men. The city was defended by an army of 7,000 of whom 2,000 were foreigners. The siege began with heavy Ottoman artillery firing at the city’s wallswhile a smaller Ottoman force captured the rest of the Byzantine strongholds in the area. Ottoman attempts to blockade the city completely failed at first owing to the boom blocking the entrance to the Golden Horn. This boom, a large chain pulled across from Constantinople to the Tower of Galata on the northern side, prevented unwanted ships from approaching the city, while still allowing four Christian ships through. Because Mehmed was unable to force his ships into the city, he had his ships rolled into the Golden Horn on greased logs. Byzantine efforts to destroy the ships with fire ships failed, allowing the Ottomans to seal the city off.

Turkish frontal assaults on the walls were repulsed with heavy casualties and Turkish attempts to undermine the walls were all countered and abandoned. Mehmed’s offer to lift the siege, if he was given the city, was rejected. On 22 May, the moon rose in eclipse which some believed prophesied the fall of the city. A few days later Constantine received news that no Venetian relief fleet was coming. After midnight on May 29, the Ottoman army attacked the walls. The first wave of irregulars was thrown back. The second Turkish wave ofAnatolians managed to breach the Blachernae section of walls. The defenders pushed back the Anatolians and managed to hold out against the Sultan’s eliteJanissaries. During the fighting, the Genoese commander, Giovanni Giustinianiwas fatally wounded and retreated to his ships with his men. The Emperor and his men continued to hold off the Turks until the Turks discovered an unlocked gate through which they flooded into the city. Constantine reportedly fell leading a charge against the invaders, though his body was never found. The last defenders were killed and the Turks proceeded to loot the city.

This battle marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, an empire which had lasted for over 1,100 years. The city’s fall was a massive blow for Christendom.Pope Nicholas V ordered an immediate counter-attack, but his death soon after marked the end of the plan. Mehmed made Constantinople his capital and proceeded to conquer the last two Byzantine states, the Despotate of Moreaand the Empire of Trebizond. Many Greeks fled the city, migrating to other parts of Europe, in particular Italy. This migration is thought to have helped fuel the Renaissance. The Fall of Constantinople is seen by some scholars as a key event in leading to the end of the Middle Ages, and some mark the end of the Middle Ages by this event.[10]

State of the Byzantine Empire


Constantine stretched this chain across the Golden Horn to prevent Mehmed’s ships from entering into the city of Constantinople in 1453. Today it belongs to the Istanbul Military Museum.

In the 1,123 years of the existence of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople had been besieged many times but had been captured only once, during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.[11] The crusaders had most likely not intended to conquer Byzantium in the beginning, and an unstableLatin state was established in Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire fell apart into a number of Greek successor states, notably NicaeaEpirus and Trebizond. The Greek states fought as allies against the Latin establishments but also as rivals against each other over the Byzantine throne. The Nicaean Greeks were the first to re-conquer Constantinople from the Latins in 1261. In the following two centuries, the much-weakened Byzantine Empire faced attacks from the Latins, the Serbians, the Bulgarians and most importantly, the Ottoman Turks.[5][12] [13] [14] In 1453 the empire consisted of little more than the city of Constantinople itself and a portion of thePeloponnese (centered on the fortress of Mystras). The Empire of Trebizond, a completely independent successor state formed in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, also survived on the coast of the Black Sea.


The Byzantine Empire in the first half of the 15th century. Thessaloniki was captured by the Ottomans in 1430. A few islands in the Aegean and the Propontis remained under Byzantine rule until 1453 (not shown on the map)

The Dardanelles Gun, cast in 1464 and based on the Orban bombard fromHungary that was used for the Ottoman besiegers of Constantinople in 1453. Today it belongs to the British Royal Armouries collection.

When Sultan Murad II was succeeded by his son Mehmed II in early 1451, it was widely believed that the new Sultan would be an incapable ruler who could pose no great threat to Christian possessions in the Balkans and the Aegean.[15] This belief was reinforced by Mehmed’s friendly assurances to envoys who were sent to him at the beginning of his reign.[16]During the spring and summer of 1452, Mehmed II, whose great grandfather Bayezid I had previously built a fortress on the Asian side of the Bosporus called Anadolu Hisarı, now built a second fortress several miles north of Constantinople on the European side, directly across the strait from Anadolu Hisarı, which would increase Turkish influence on the straits.[16] An especially relevant aspect of this fortress was its ability to prevent help from Genoese colonies on the Black Seacoast from reaching the city. This castle was called Rumeli HisarıRumeli and Anadolubeing the names of European and Asian portions of the Ottoman Empire, respectively. The new fortress is also known as Boğazkesen which has a dual meaning in Turkish: strait-blocker or throat-cutter, emphasizing its strategic position. The Greek name of the fortress, Laimokopia, also bears the same double-meaning.

Byzantine emperor Constantine XI appealed to Western Europe for help, but his request did not meet with success. Ever since themutual excommunication of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in 1054, the Roman Catholic West had been trying to gain dominion over the East; union had been attempted before at Lyons in 1274 and, indeed, some Paleologan emperors had since been received in the Latin Church. Emperor John VIII Palaeologus had attempted to negotiate Union with Pope Eugene IV, and the Councilheld in 1439 resulted in the proclamation, in Florence, of a Bull of Union. In the following years, a massive propaganda initiative was undertaken by anti-unionist forces in Constantinople and the population as well as the leadership of the Byzantine Church was in fact bitterly divided. Latent ethnic hatred between Greeks and Italians stemming from the events of 1204 and the sack of Constantinople by the Latins, also played a significant role, Finally the Union failed, greatly annoying Pope Nicholas V and the Roman Catholic Church.

In the summer of 1452, when Rumeli Hisari was completed and the threat had become imminent, Constantine wrote to the Pope, promising to implement the Union, which was declared valid by a half-hearted imperial court on Tuesday 12 December 1452.[16]Although he was eager for an advantage, Pope Nicholas V did not have the influence the Byzantines thought he had over the Western Kings and Princes, some of whom were wary of increasing Papal control, and these had not the wherewithal to contribute to the effort, especially in light of the weakened state of France and England from the Hundred Years’ WarSpain being in the final part of the Reconquista, the internecine fighting in the German Principalities, and Hungary and Poland‘s defeat at the Battle of Varna of 1444. Although some troops did arrive from the mercantile city states in the north of Italy, the Western contribution was not adequate to counterbalance Ottoman strength. Some Western individuals, however, came to help defend the city on their own account. One of these was an accomplished soldier from Genoa, Giovanni Giustiniani, who arrived with 700 armed men in January 1453.[17] A specialist in defending walled cities, he was immediately given the overall command of the defense of the land walls by the emperor. Around the same time, the captains of the Venetian ships which happened to be present in the Golden Horn offered their services to the Emperor, barring contrary orders from Venice, and Pope Nicholas undertook to send three ships laden with provisions, which set sail near the end of March.[18] In Venice, meanwhile, deliberations were taking place concerning the kind of assistance the Republic would lend to Constantinople. The Senate decided upon sending a fleet, but there were delays, and when it finally set out late in April, it was already too late for it to be able to partake in the battle.[19] Further undermining Byzantine morale, seven Italian ships with around 700 men slipped out of the capital at the moment when Giustiniani arrived, men who had sworn to defend the capital. At the same time, Constantine’s attempts to appease the Sultan with gifts ended with the execution of the Emperor’s ambassadors — even Byzantine diplomacy could not save the city.[16]

Fearing a possible naval attack along the shores of the Golden Horn, Emperor Constantine XI ordered that a chain be placed at the mouth of the harbour. This chain which floated on wooden logs, was strong enough to prevent any Turkish ship from entering the harbour. This device was one of two which gave the Byzantines some hope of extending the siege until the possible arrival of foreign help.[20] This strategy was enforced because in 1204 the armies of the 4th Crusade successfully circumvented Constantinople’s land defenses by breaching the Golden Horn Wall. Another strategy employed by the Byzantines, was the repairs and fortification of the Land Wall(Theodosian Walls). Emperor Constantine deemed it necessary to ensure that the Blachernae district’s wall were the most fortified because that section of the wall protruded northwards. The Land Wall consisted of separate parallel walls dotted with towers every 50-60 yards and crenelations. In addition to the improvements made to the Theodosian Walls, the byzantine defenders could rely on a 60ft wide moat that fronted the outermost portion of the fortifications.[21]


The army defending Constantinople was small; it totalled about 7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreigners.[22] When the siege began the population of the city amounted, including the refugees from the surrounding area, to about 50,000 people.[23] The city had about 20 km of walls (Theodosian Walls: 5.5 km; sea walls along the Golden Horn: 7 km; sea walls along the Sea of Marmara: 7.5 km), one of the strongest sets of fortified walls in existence at the time. The walls had recently been repaired (under John VIII) and were in fairly good shape, giving the defenders sufficient reason to believe that they could hold out until help from the West arrived.[24] In addition, the defenders were relatively well-equipped with a fleet of 26 ships: 5 from Genoa, 5 from Venice, 3 from Venetian Crete, 1 from Ancona, 1 from Aragon, 1 from France, and about 10 Byzantine.[4] The Ottomans, on the other hand, had a larger force. Recent estimates span between 80,000 soldiers, including mounted troops and 5/6,000–10,000 Janissaries.[2][25] Also, the Serbian lord Đurađ Brankovićsupplied an additional 1,500 Serbian cavalry as part of his obligation to the Ottoman sultan even though, just a few months prior, he had supplied the money for the reconstruction of the walls of Constantinople. Contemporary witnesses of the siege, who tend to exaggerate the military power of the Sultan, provide higher numbers[2] (Nicolò Barbaro: 160,000;[26] the Florentine merchant Jacopo Tedaldi[27] and the Great Logothete George Sphrantzes:[28] 200,000; the Cardinal Isidore of Kiev[29] and the Archbishop of Mytilene Leonardo di Chio:[30] 300,000).[31] Mehmed also built a fleet to besiege the city from the sea (partially manned by Greek sailors from Gallipoli[25]). Contemporary estimates of the strength of the Ottoman fleet span between about 100 ships (Tedaldi[27]), 145 (Barbaro[26]), 160 (Ubertino Pusculo[32]), 200–250 (Isidore of Kiev,[29] Leonardo di Chio[33]) to 430 (Sphrantzes[28]). A more realistic modern estimate puts the total at 6 large galleys, 10 ordinary galleys, 15 smaller galleys, 75 large rowing boats, and 20 horse-transports.[7]

According to David Nicolle (2000), the idea that Constantinople was inevitably doomed is wrong, and the overall situation was not as one-sided as a simple glance at a map might suggest.[34]

Equipment and strategies

Ottoman dispositions

Prior to the siege of Constantinople it was known that the Ottomans had the ability to cast medium-sized cannons, but the range of some pieces they were able to field far surpassed the defenders’ expectations. Instrumental to this Ottoman advancement in arms production was a somewhat mysterious figure by the name of Orban (Urban), a Hungarian (though some suggest he was German.[35]) One cannon designed by Orban was 27 feet long, and able to hurl a 1,300  lb projectile over a mile.

Modern painting of Mehmed II and the Ottoman army approaching Constantinople, transporting a giant bombard

The master founder initially tried to sell his services to the Byzantines, who were unable to secure the funds needed to hire him. Orban then left Constantinople and approached Mehmed II, claiming that his weapon could blast ‘the walls of Babylon itself’. Given abundant funds and materials, the Hungarian engineer built the gun within three months at Adrianople, from which it was dragged by sixty oxen to Constantinople. In the meantime, Orban also produced other cannons instrumental for the Turkish siege forces.[36]

Orban’s cannon had several drawbacks however: it took three hours to reload; cannon balls were in very short supply; and the cannon is said to have collapsed under its own recoil after six weeks (this fact however is disputed,[2] being only reported in the letter of Archbishop Leonardo di Chio[30] and the later and often unreliable Russian chronicle of Nestor Iskander).[37] Having previously established a large foundry about 150 miles away, Mehmed now had to undergo the painstaking process of transporting his massive artillery pieces. Orban’s giant cannon was said to have been accompanied by a crew of 60 oxen and over 400 men.[35]

Mehmed planned to attack the Theodosian Walls, the intricate series of walls and ditches protecting Constantinople from an attack from the West, the only part of the city not surrounded by water. His army encamped outside the city on the Monday after Easter, 2 April 1453.

The bulk of the Ottoman army were encamped south of the Golden Horn. The regular European troops, stretched out along the entire length of the walls, were commanded by Karadja Pasha. The regular troops from Anatolia under Ishak Pasha were stationed south of the Lycus down to the Sea of Marmara. Mehmed himself erected his red-and-gold tent near the Mesoteichion, where the guns and the elite regiments, the Janissaries, were positioned. The Bashi-bazouks were spread out behind the front lines. Other troops under Zaganos Pasha were employed north of the Golden Horn. Communication was maintained by a road that had been constructed over the marshy head of the Horn.[38]

]Byzantine dispositions

On April 5, as the Sultan himself arrived with his last troops, the defenders took up their positions.[39] As their numbers were insufficient to occupy the walls in their entirety, it had been decided that only the outer walls would be manned. Constantine and his Greek troops guarded the Mesoteichion, the middle section of the land walls, where they were crossed by the river Lycus. This section was considered the weakest spot in the walls and an attack was feared here most. Giustiniani was stationed to the north of the emperor, at the Charisian Gate (Myriandrion); later during the siege, he was shifted to the Mesoteichion to join Constantine, leaving the Myriandrionto the charge of the Bocchiardi brothers. Minotto and his Venetians were stationed in the Blachernae palace, together with Teodoro Caristo, the Langasco brothers, and Archbishop Leonardo of Chios. To the left of the emperor, further south, were the commanders Cataneo, with Genoese troops, and Theophilus Palaeologus, who guarded the Pegae Gate with Greek soldiers. The section of the land walls from the Pegae Gate to the Golden Gate (itself guarded by a certain Genoese called Manuel) was defended by the Venetian Filippo Contarini, while Demetrius Cantacuzenus had taken position on the southernmost part of the Theodosian wall. The sea walls were manned more sparsely, with Jacobo Contarini at Stoudion, a makeshift defense force of Greek monks to his left hand, and prince Orhan at the Harbour of Eleutherius. Péré Julia was stationed at the Great Palace with Genoese troops; Cardinal Isidore of Kiev guarded the tip of the peninsula near the boom. The sea walls at the southern shore of the Golden Horn were defended by Venetian and Genoese sailors under Gabriele Trevisano. Two tactical reserves were kept behind in the city, one in the Petra district just behind the land walls and one near the Church of the Holy Apostles, under the command of Lucas Notaras and Nicephorus Palaeologus, respectively. The Venetian Alviso Diedo commanded the ships in the harbor. Although the Byzantines also had cannons, they were much smaller than those of the Ottomans and the recoil tended to damage their own walls.[30]

Siege of the city

Siege of Constantinople

At the beginning of the siege, Mehmed sent out some of his best troops to reduce the remaining Byzantine strongholds outside the city of Constantinople. The fortress of Therapia on the Bosphorus and a smaller castle at the village of Studius near the Sea of Marmara were taken within a few days. The Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara were taken by Admiral Baltoghlu’s fleet.[40]

Mehmed’s massive cannon fired on the walls for weeks, but due to its imprecision and extremely slow rate of reloading the Byzantines were able to repair most of the damage after each shot, limiting the cannon’s effect.[41]

Meanwhile, despite some probing attacks, the Ottoman fleet under Suleiman Baltoghlu could not enter the Golden Horn due to the boom the Byzantines had laid across the entrance, and although one of its main tasks was to prevent any ships from outside from entering the Golden Horn, on 20 April a small flotilla of four Christian ships[42] managed to slip in after some heavy fighting, an event which strengthened the morale of the defenders and caused embarrassment to the Sultan.[41] Baltoghlu’s life was spared after his subordinates testified to his brave yet fruitless efforts to Mehmed. To circumvent the boom, Mehmed ordered the construction of a road of greased logs across Galata on the north side of the Golden Horn, and rolled his ships across on 22 April.[41] This seriously threatened the flow of supplies from Genovese ships from the — nominally neutral — colony of Pera and demoralized the Byzantine defenders. On the night of 28 April, an attempt was made to destroy the Ottoman ships already in the Golden Horn using fire ships, but the Ottomans had been warned in advance and forced the Christians to retreat with heavy losses. From then on, the defenders were forced to disperse part of their forces to the Golden Horn walls, causing defense in other sections of the walls to weaken.

The Turks had made several frontal assaults on the land wall, but were always repelled with heavy losses. From mid-May to 25 May, the Ottomans sought to break through the walls by constructing underground tunnels in an effort to mine them. Many of the sappers wereSerbians sent from Novo Brdo by the Serbian Despot. They were placed under the command of Zaganos Pasha. However, the Byzantines employed an engineer named Johannes Grant (who was said to be German but was probably Scottish), who had countermines dug, allowing Byzantine troops to enter the mines and kill the Turkish workers. The Byzantines intercepted the first Serbian tunnel on the night of 16 May. Subsequent tunneling efforts were interrupted on 21, 23, and 25 May, destroying them with Greek fire and vigorous combat. On 23 May, the Byzantines captured and tortured two Turkish officers, who revealed the location of all the Turkish tunnels, which were then destroyed.[43]

Mehmed offered to lift the siege if they gave him the city. When this was declined, Mehmed planned to overpower the walls by sheer force, knowing that the weak Byzantine defense would be worn out before he ran out of troops. Around this time, Mehmed had a final council with his senior officers. Here he encountered some resistance; one of his Viziers, the veteran Halil Pasha, who had always disapproved of Mehmed’s plans to conquer the city, now admonished him to abandon the siege in the face of recent adversity. Halil was overruled by Zaganos Pasha, who insisted on an immediate attack. Having been bribed by the Byzantines, Halil Pasha was put to death later that year.[44]

On May 22, 1453, the moon, symbol of Constantinople, rose in dark eclipse, fulfilling a prophecy on the city’s demise.[45] Four days later, the whole city was blotted out by a thick fog, a condition unknown in that part of the world in May. When the fog lifted that evening, a strange light was seen playing about the dome of the Hagia Sophia, and from the city walls lights were seen in the countryside to the West, far behind the Turkish camp. The light around the dome was interpreted by some as the Holy Spirit departing from the Cathedral, while there was a distant hope that the lights were the campfires of the troops of John Hunyadi who had come to relieve the city.[46]

The following day a small Venetian ship of 12 entered the Capital and reported to the Emperor that no Venetian relief fleet was on its way after having searched the Aegean.[47] Nonetheless the Emperor was able to receive the aid of the 12 in the defense of the city.

[edit]Final assault

Conquest of Constantinople, from the Istanbul 1453 Panorama Museum

Mehmed called a war council on 26 May and at his tent declared that the siege had gone on long enough. Preparations were to be made in the evening and continue on into the next day on the 27th.[48] Prayer and resting would be then granted to the soldiers on the 28th and thereafter the final assault would be launched. For 36 hours after the war council the Ottomans mobilized their manpower for extensive preparations for an all-out assault.[48] Prior to this the Ottomans had tried to starve the city and make notable breaches in the walls with artillery, occasionally testing the sea walls with his land-hauled fleet.

On May 28, as the Ottoman army prepared for the final assault, large-scale religious processions were held in the city. In the evening a last solemn ceremony was held in the Hagia Sophia, in which the Emperor and representatives of both the Latin and Greek church partook, together with nobility from both sides.[49] Shortly after midnight the attack began. The first wave of attackers, the azaps (auxiliaries), were poorly trained and equipped, and were meant only to kill as many defenders as possible. The second assault, consisting largely of Anatolians, focused on a section of the Blachernae walls in the northwest part of the city, which had been partially damaged by the cannon. This section of the walls had been built much more recently, in the eleventh century, and was much weaker; the crusaders in 1204 had broken through the walls there.[citation needed] The Ottoman attackers also managed to break through, but were just as quickly pushed back out by the defenders. The Christians also managed for a time to hold off the third attack by the Sultan’s elite Janissaries, but the Genoese general in charge of the land troops,[2][29][30] Giovanni Giustiniani, was grievously wounded during the attack, and his evacuation from the ramparts caused a panic in the ranks of the defenders.[50] Giustiniani was carried to Chios, where he succumbed to his wounds a few days later.

Mehmed II enters Constantinople with his army by Fausto Zonaro

With Giustiniani’s Genoese troops retreating into the city and towards the harbour, Constantine and his men, now left to their own devices, kept fighting and managed to hold off the attackers for a while. At this point, some historians suggest that the Kerkoporta gate in the Blachernae section had been left unlocked, and the Ottomans soon discovered this mistake.[51] The Ottomans rushed in. Around the same time, the defenders were being overwhelmed at several points in Constantine’s section. When Turkish flags were seen flying above the Kerkoporta, panic ensued, and the defense collapsed, as Janissary soldiers, led by Ulubatlı Hasan pressed forward. It is said that Constantine, throwing aside his purple regalia, led the final charge against the oncoming Ottomans, dying in the ensuing battle in the streets like his soldiers, although his ultimate fate remains unknown.[52]

After the initial assault, the Ottoman army fanned out along the main thoroughfare of the city, the Mese, past the great forums, and past the Church of the Holy Apostles, which Mehmed II wanted to provide a seat for his newly appointed patriarch which would help him better control his Christian subjects. Mehmed II had sent an advance guard to protect key buildings such as the Holy Apostles, as he did not wish to establish his new capital in a thoroughly devastated city.

The Army converged upon the Augusteum, the vast square that fronted the great church of Hagia Sophia whose bronze gates were barred by a huge throng of civilians inside the building, hoping for divine protection. After the doors were breached, the troops separated the congregation according to what price they might bring on the slave markets. Mehmed II allowed his troops to plunder the city for three days, during which multitudes of civilians were massacred and enslaved.[53] There was raping, massacring and pillaging according to the English historian John Julius Norwichand byzantinist Alexander Vasiliev.[54][54][55] Soldiers fought over the possession of some of the spoils of war.[56] According to the Venetian surgeon Nicolo Barbaro “all through the day the Turks made a great slaughter of Christians through the city”.[57] On the third day, Mehmet ordered all looting to stop and sent his troops back outside the walls.[58]


Byzantine historian George Sphrantzes was an eyewitness to the fall of Constantinople. In his chronicle about the fall of the city, he wrote down the events that had taken place at the end of the third day of the conquest:[59][60]

On the third day after the fall of our city, the Sultan celebrated his victory with a great, joyful triumph. He issued a proclamation: the citizens of all ages who had managed to escape detection were to leave their hiding places throughout the city and come out into the open, as they were remain free and no question would be asked. He further declared the restoration of houses and property to those who had abandoned our city before the siege, if they returned home, they would be treated according to their rank and religion, as if nothing had changed.

—George Sphrantzes

The loss of the city was a massive blow to Christendom; the Pope called for an immediate counter-attack in the form of a crusade, but when no European monarch was willing to lead the crusade, the Pope himself decided to go; his early death eliminated the possibility of a counter-attack.

With Constantinople beneath his belt, Mehmed II had acquired a great, rich city albeit one in decline due to years of war. The Capital allowed the Turks to establish a permanent supply base in Christian Europe. Further advances into Hungary and the principalities bordering the two kingdoms would have been difficult, if not impossible, without the harbors of Constantinople bringing in supplies and serving as a fortified center from which to administer the empire and strategy.

Far from being in its heyday, by then, Constantinople was severely depopulated as a result of the general economic and territorial decline of the empire following its partial recovery from the disaster of the Fourth Crusade inflicted on it by the Christian army two centuries before. Therefore, the city in 1453 was a series of walled villages separated by vast fields encircled in whole by the fifth-centuryTheodosian walls. When the Ottoman troops first broke through the defenses, many of the leading citizens of these little townlets submitted their surrender to Mehmed’s generals.[61] These villages, specifically along the land walls, were allowed to keep their citizens and churches and were protected by Mehmed’s special contingents of Janissaries. It was these people who formed what the Ottomans called a Millet, a self-governing community in the multi-national Ottoman Empire of which Constantinople was to become the capital.Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, although the Greek Orthodox Church remained intact, and Gennadius Scholarius was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople.

The “Church of the Holy Wisdom“, or Hagia Sofia, was converted into a mosque

Many Greeks, such as John Argyropoulos and Constantine Lascaris, fled the city and found refuge in the Latin Westbringing with them knowledge and documents from the Greco-Roman tradition to Italy and other regions that further propelled theRenaissance,[62][63] although the influx of Greek scholars into the West began much earlier, especially in the Northern Italian city-states which had started welcoming scholars in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.[citation needed] The chancellor of Florence Coluccio Salutati began this cultural exchange in 1396 by inviting Manuel Chrysoloras, a Byzantine scholar to lecture at the University of Florence.[64] The Italians’ hunger for Latin classics and a reintroduction of the Greek language was a major intellectual factor underlying the Renaissance.[dubious – discuss] Those Greeks who stayed behind in Constantinople were mostly confined to the Phanar and Galata districts. The Phanariots, as they were called, provided many capable advisers to the Ottoman Sultans, but were seen as traitors by many Greeks.[citation needed]

The Morean (Peloponnesian) fortress of Mystras, where Constantine’s brothers Thomas and Demetrius ruled, constantly in conflict with each other and knowing that Mehmed would eventually invade them as well, held out until 1460. Long before the fall of Constantinople, Demetrius had fought for the throne with Thomas, Constantine, and their other brothers John and Theodore.[65] Thomas escaped to Rome when the Ottomans invaded Morea while Demetrius expected to rule a puppet state, but instead was imprisoned and remained there for the rest of his life. In Rome, Thomas and his family received some monetary support from the Pope and other Western rulers as Byzantine emperor in exile, until 1503. In 1461 the independent Byzantine state in Trebizond fell to Mehmed.[65]

Scholars consider the Fall of Constantinople as a key event ending the Middle Ages and starting the Renaissance because of the end of the old religious order in Europe and the use of cannon and gunpowder. The fall of Constantinople and general encroachment of the Turks in that region also severed the main overland trade link between Europe and Asia, and as a result more Europeans began to seriously consider the possibility of reaching Asia by sea.[66]

Third Rome

With Byzantium considered the continuation of the Roman Empire, or the “Second Rome”, the fall of Constantinople led competing factions to lay claim to being the “Third Rome“. Russian claims to Byzantine heritage clashed with those of the Ottoman empire’s own claim. In Mehmed’s view, he was the successor to the Roman Emperor, declaring himself Kayser-i Rum, literally “Caesar of Rome“, that is, of the Roman Empire, though he was remembered as “the Conqueror”, founder of a political system that survived until 1922 with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey that has since held Constantinople (renamed Istanbul) but moved the capital of the Turkish state to Ankara. Such conflict in ideology only stimulated warfare between the Russian and Ottoman Empire, with the 18th and 19th century seeing Russian armies approach slowly closer to Constantinople. In fact the Russian armies came all the way to Yesilkoy suburb ofIstanbul, which is only 10 miles west of Topkapi Palace during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878).

Stefan Dušan, Tsar of Serbia, and Ivan Alexander, Tsar of Bulgaria both made similar claims, regarding themselves as legitimate heirs to the Byzantine Empire. Other potential claimants, such as the Republic of Venice and the Holy Roman Empire have disintegrated into history. The Vatican is the final remaining claimant. Their claim dates back from the establishment of the Papal States which were originally forged as the “Rome-Ravenna” corridor after Emperor Justinian’s conquests. Later placed under Frankish protection, the Papal States remained as they were throughout the centuries, until the 1870 conquest by Victor Emmanuel. It was not until the subsequentLateran Treaty in 1929, that their claim to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire (330AD-1453AD) was revived, a continuous claim dating back over 1500 years.

In addition to the military and political benefits bestowed upon the Turks with its capture, it also brought the trade in Eastern Spices through Muslim intermediaries into a declining period. Europeans would continue to trade through Constantinople into the 16th century but high prices propelled the search for alternative sources of supply that did not pass through the intermediaries of the Ottomans and, to a lesser extent, the Safavids and Mamelukes. An increasing number of Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch ships began to attempt to sail to India via the southern tip of Africa. Indeed, had Columbus not believed that he would reach Asia to negotiate trade rights by sailing west—the mission as he presented it to his patron, the King of Spain—he would not have found the New World.


It is widely believed that the city was renamed to “Istanbul” in the aftermath of the conquest. In actuality, Ottomans used the Arabic translation of the city, “Kostantiniyye,” as can be seen in numerous Ottoman documents. The name Istanbul, deriving from a Greek phrase (“to the City”, Greek: eis -tin- polin ) was already spread among the Turkish populace of the Ottoman Empire before the conquest.[citation needed] Istanbul would become the official name of the city in 1930,[67] as part of Atatürk’s reforms.

[edit]Ottoman casualties

Ottoman casualties are unknown; the Venetian surgeon Barbaro describes the sea around the capital floating with the bodies of the Turks and Christians “like melons out to canal”. Whatever the Ottoman casualties, the Empire had to recover its strength; to the East lay the Karamanids, and to the North the Hungarians and numerous smaller states, such as the Despotate of Morea and the many Slavic territories in the Balkans contested by Hungary.

Cultural references

There are many legends in Greece surrounding the Fall of Constantinople. One of them holds that two priests saying divine liturgy over the crowd disappeared into the cathedral’s walls as the first Turkish soldiers entered. According to the legend, the priests will appear again on the day Constantinople returns to Christian hands.[68] Another legend refers to the Marble King, Constantine XI, holding that, when the Ottomans entered the city, an angel rescued the emperor, turned him into marble and placed him in a cave under the earth near the Golden Gate, where he waits to be brought to life again (a variant of the sleeping hero legend).[69][70]

Constantine XI: The last Roman (Byzantine) emperor

[edit]Western cultural impact

The Christian re-conquest of Constantinople remained a fascinating and much sought-after event in Western Europe for years to come after its fall to the House of Osman. Rumours of Constantine XI’s survival and subsequent rescue by an angel led many to hope that the city would one day return to Christian hands. However, as Western Europe entered the 15th century, the age of Crusading began to come to an end. Initially, the fall of the city seemed to cause a stir of crusading zeal in the West, where, apart from religious sentiments,Renaissance humanism had for about a century been fueling an interest in the cultural and intellectual heritage of classical antiquity, and the role that Byzantium had played in preserving that heritage. The great humanist Aeneas Silvius lamented that with the fall of Constantinople “Homer and Plato have died a second death”. This utterance was not true for learning in the fallen city. In addition to this, refugees from Constantinople to Italy brought with them ancient texts that further inspired humanist investigation of ancient philosophy and esotericism, especially Platonic and Neo-Platonic thought. As Pope Pius II, the same Aeneas Silvius declared a crusade in 1459 for the recapture of Constantinople, but any genuine enthusiasm that existed was short-lived, and a crusade never came into effect.Guillaume Dufay composed several songs lamenting the fall of the Eastern church, and the duke of Burgundy, Philip the Goodavowed to take up arms against the Turks. With theProtestant Reformation and subsequent counter-reformation, the recapture of Constantinople became an ever-distant dream. Even France, once a fervent participant of the Crusades, became an ally of the Ottomans. Nonetheless depictions of Christian coalitions taking the city and of the late Emperor’s resurrection by Leo the Wise persisted.[71] Greek armies invaded Turkey in 1919-1922 after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, but were ultimately unsuccessful in retaking the city. After the Turkish war of independence, Turkey emerged as a secular constitutional republic in 1923, later becoming a secular democratic republic in 1950 and joined NATO along with Greece in 1952.

Contrary to popular belief, the city was not immediately renamed to Istanbul, but rather many different names were used by the Ottomans: such as Kostantiniyye, Istanbul, Islâmbol, Stamboul. Later the name was changed to Istanbul by the Turkish Postal Law of 1930.[72][73]

Fall of Constantinople in media

John Bellairs‘ book The Trolley to Yesterday is based upon the fall of Constantinople.

The sacking of Constantinople is mentioned in the opening song of the Tim Rice musical, CHESS.

Mika Waltari used it in the background of his novel The Dark Angel (Johannes Angelos).

Jack Hight’s novel, Siege, is based on the Fall of Constantinople and the events preceeding it.

Istanbul, before that she was call Constantinople Capital of Byzantine Empire ple


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Cities in Turkey


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Region Marmara Region
Province Istanbul
Coordinates 41 ° 28 ° 57’E 0’N
Surface 1538.77 km ²
Population (2009) 12,782,960[1]
Height 40 m

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Map of ancient Constantinople and its walls

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The fall of Constantinople (1453) by Jean Chartier

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İstiklal Avenue in the European Quarter Taksim

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Dried fruits and Turkish delight in the Spice Bazaar

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The Hippodrome is now a park

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The European fortress, built for the capture of Constantinople

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The Blue Mosque in the district of Sultanahmet

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Ottoman houses on the Bosphorus

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The Ortaköy mosque with the Bosphorus Bridge

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The Chora Church is one of the many extant Byzantine buildings

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In the Imperial Hall Topkapi Palace

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The Dolmabahce Palace

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Galata Tower rises above the European Quarter Galata

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Sirkeci Station, terminus of the Orient Express

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The Maiden Tower in the Bosporus

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The Basilica Cistern, one of the largest water basins


Istinye park with all brand stores

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Levent, a financial center in Istanbul

Istanbul or Istanbul (Turkishİstanbul, pronunciation [istɑmbul]?) is a city in theEuropean and Asian part of Turkey and was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Before that she was called Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. The original name for the city was Byzantium.

With 13 million registered and an estimated 6 million[citation needed] unregistered residents Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and Europe. The city consists of 27 districts that make up the capital of the province forms.


For the origin of the Turkish name İstanbul are different explanations. He was the GreekΚωνσταντινουπολις (Konstantinoupolis) are derived. Another explanation is that the Greek εις την πολιν (Ancient Greek requirement PolinMiddle Greek is tin Polin) (“the City”) is derived, in the former Byzantine Empire , the capital, Constantinople, often referred to as “the City” . In Latin, the city was called Constantinopolisin formal Turkish: قسطنطينيه (Konstantiniyye), in many Slavic languages they spoke of Tsargrad.[2]

In Turkish folklore for centuries the popular superstition is that the name Istanbul was derived from Islam Bol (“Many Islam”) or Bill Islam (“Islam Find”). These folk etymological name declarations were particularly popular during the reign of SultanMustafa III, as its name İstanbul replaced by İslambol in official documents.

The name is pronounced in Turkish, with emphasis on the second syllable. In Dutch it is stressed on the first syllables far more common.

Spelling in Dutch

Both the variant spelling “Istanbul” and “Istanbul”, according to the Dutch Language Union is correct. Although the Turkish one point on the ‘I’, it is in Dutch not normally displayed. In Turkish, the correct spelling of point, because this language has an additional letter, the I / I (no point), whose pronunciation differs from the I / i (with dot).The Dutch Language Union recommends that in any point on the case in Istanbul to write.

Occasionally one finds the ancient name of Constantinople still. In some languages such as Greek, this is still the most common name.



Byzantium was originally a Greek city founded by colonists from Megara in 667 BC..According to legend, they cited the city of Byzantium after their king Byzas.Byzantium, the Latinized version of this name. Long been a prosperous Greek Byzantine city-state until the Macedonians conquered. When Macedonia was defeated by a few centuries later the Romans , she was an important city in the Roman Empire.

The city took the side of Pescennius Niger in his battle for the Roman imperial throne, and became 193195 besieged by his rival Septimius Severus. The city was badly damaged in the siege, but Septimius Severus, emperor, and they rebuilt the city soon regained its former prosperity.

[edit]Capital of the Eastern Roman Empire

Emperor Constantine the Great, the capital of the Roman Empire to the east of the more important was eager to move, was the appropriate location of the city attracted. Allegedly, it was the location for the new capital of the Roman Empire designated in a prophetic dream of Constantine. Byzantium was indeed a very convenient location, surrounded on three sides by water and thus relatively easy to defend, they controlled the strategic Bosporus and many trade routes between Europe and Asia came together here. In 330 Byzantium was formally renamed asNova Roma (Latin for “New Rome”), but the city soon became better known asKonstantinoupolis (Greek for city of Constantine, Constantinople in Dutch).Constantinople became the capital of the Empire, while Rome one time retained its political and economic privileges.

Constantinople was first 65 years been the capital of the Roman Empire and from395, at the death of Theodosius I, when the western part of the Empire finally separated was collected from the eastern part, which later became the Byzantine Empire would be called. Constantinople was constantly expanded and embellished by successive emperors and especially Justinian has created many great works.The city was one of the largest and most splendid cities in the world during the late antiquity and the early and high Middle Ages. Around 500 the town had about 500,000 inhabitants, but during the terrible plague of Justinian in 542 lost about 230,000 lives. Later there was a recovery, but it is doubtful whether the number of 500,000 was reached again.

But with 300,000 residents, or slightly more, could Constantinople, the Greek-speaking Byzantines called Polis I (“The City”) called for centuries the largest city in Europe. The cultural life of the Byzantine Empire was a very large extent concentrated in the capital. Many wealthy monasteries were mostly located in the city and the head of the Eastern Church had its seat. The Greek language since the seventh century had completely prevailed in the Latin, Greek was also the court as an official language was used. An honored Roman tradition were still luxurious baths (thermal baths) where people could relax. In Constantinople was called University of Constantinople established in the 5th century by Theodosius II, probably building on the earlier Athenian philosophers school. According to some historians, the library belonging to the university a large part of the Library of Alexandria have preserved.The people were devout Orthodox-Christian, the fanatical off. Except for dogmaticdisputes were the emotions also run high at the races in the great Hippodrome of the city, where fans of the “Greens” and “Blue” (two competing teams of charioteers) often bloody with each other blows.

In 1204 , this thriving city is occupied by the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade and was thoroughly looted by them. Most of treasures collected centuries, many of which come from imperial Rome, were dragged into Western Europe, destroyed or melted down. Most valuables went to Venice where they can still be seen today.The Venetians were also the initiators of the raid because they wanted to take this opportunity to trade competition from Constantinople off. The Venetians had offered the Crusaders to the Middle East to carry their commercial fleet and Constantinople as ‘stop’ instead. Once landed in the city knew the filmmaker Doge of Venice, the European knights to persuade the ‘heretical’ Byzantines to attack. Most likely this was therefore a preconceived intention was to the Venetians. About resuming the original purpose of the Crusade (the liberation of Jerusalem from the Muslims) had never been broached. The city remained in Latin hands until 1261 after which the Greeks managed to recapture the city again. Since the looting, the city was significantly depleted, and she succeeded is no longer in the trade routes around the Black Sea to master, previously its biggest revenue came from. Thus began the decline and there was not much more built and even entire neighborhoods were abandoned. The buildings were used as a quarry. The consequence of this situation was that many Byzantine intellectuals and artists into the increasingly prosperous Europe set out (especially Italy). They made their knowledge of classical antiquity include the Renaissance possible.

Fall of Constantinople

See Siege and Fall of Constantinople (1453) for the editorial on this subject.

The city fell on 29 May 1453, which marks the end of the Byzantine Empire meant.The city was occupied by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, an event which is sometimes regarded as the end of the Middle Ages.

The fall of Constantinople brought a stream of refugee intellectuals going to Western Europe, especially Italy. This is seen as an important factor in the development of the Renaissance.

[edit]Ottoman period

Sultan Mehmed II conquered the city was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the city immediately lived through the great building program of the new rulers.The beautiful Agia Sophia, the Byzantine cathedral of the city, was converted into a mosque. Also resurrected soon grand new mosques such as the famous Blue Mosque. The ruined Byzantine palaces were also recovered and rose to newTopkapi Palace as the seat of the Ottoman Sultans were. Many people flocked to the market and pulled back substantially on.

By 1600 over one thousand years before it was extracted maximum population of one million half away again, and even slightly exceeded (about 600,000). It was now in a very ethnically and religiously mixed town. The majority of the population (60%) were Muslim and spoke Turkish, but there was a large Greek population (approx. 25%), that Orthodox-Christian. Remarkably, the Greeks are still the bulk of trading hands. The remaining population consisted largely of Jews and Armenians. The Ottoman Empire expanded steadily until around 1750 included the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans and the area around the Black Sea which was remarkably the same area that included the Byzantine Empire at its peak in the 6th century. At the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century the Empire a process of degeneration and decay, as Greece and Egypt were able independently to make, and was only up by European powers to do not them gave the final deathblow to give to the ‘sick man of Europe‘.

Turkish era

The final fall of the Ottoman Empire was a dramatic affair. The Empire was among the losers of World War I and lost all its “non places” (Syria, Palestine, Iraq, etc.).Moreover, the country ended up in a war with the Greeks. When the latter were defeated in 1922, was the Greek minority in Turkey a hard time. In 1923, when modern Turkey was founded, the capital was moved to Ankara. In 1923 and 1924 came to a massive population exchange between Turkey and Greece which most Greeks (and also including Armenians) gewongen left Istanbul. Constantinople began when his cosmopolitan and multicultural character. In 1930 the name was officially changed to Istanbul. In 1950 the city had just over 1,000,000 inhabitants.The immigration of many farm families in rural Anatolia , the city has grown enormously since then. Istanbul now has some 12 million inhabitants (18.9 million including all districts) and is a busy Turkish town.



Istanbul is located in the area where the Eurasian plate collides with the African plate. Caused many earthquakes. The last was in 1999. Due to the poor house, where security measures against earthquakes often not be implemented, would have many thousands of deaths due to collapse of buildings.


Istanbul is located in the temperate zone and has a maritime climate influenced byclimate and Mediterranean climate. There is rainfall throughout the year without any real highlights. In the morning is often missing from the Bosphorus and in summer it is sometimes oppressively hot. In winter snow is quite frequent but usually lasts only a few days lie. The hilly area in and around the city there are many microclimates. The temperature ranges from 35 degrees in summer, is a (rare) -15 degrees in winter.[3]

The Princes Islands off the coast of the Asian part of Istanbul are the only area with a Mediterranean climate, summer resides therefore a multiple of the number of permanent residents, including many city dwellers on the islands have a country house.



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For other uses see Saladin (disambiguation).

Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb
Sultan of Egypt and Syria
Standbeeld Saladin Damascus.JPG 

Statue of Saladin in Damascus.

Reign 1174-1193
Coronation 1174, Cairo
Full name Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb
Born c. 1137–1138
Birthplace TikritIraq[1]
Died March 4, 1193 CE (aged 55–56)
Place of death DamascusSyria
Buried Umayyad MosqueDamascus,Syria
Predecessor Nur ad-Din Zangi
Successor Al-Afdal (Syria)
Al-Aziz Uthman (Egypt)
Dynasty Ayyubid
Father Najm ad-Dīn Ayyūb
Religious beliefs Sunni Islam

Saladin statue - founder of the Ayyubid dynasty - born in Tikrit and educated in Damascus - Damascus, Syria

Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (Kurdish: سه‌لاحه‌دین ئه‌یوبی, Selah’edînê Eyubî, Arabic: صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب‎, Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb) (c. 1138 – March 4, 1193), better known in the Western world as Saladin, was a Kurdish[2][3] Muslim, who became the first Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt and Syria. He led Islamic opposition to the Franks and other European Crusaders in the Levant. At the height of his power, he ruled over Egypt, Syria, MesopotamiaHejaz, andYemen. He led the Muslims against the Crusaders and eventually recaptured Palestine from the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem after his victory in the Battle of Hattin. As such, he is a notable figure in KurdishArab, and Muslim culture. Saladin was a strict adherent of Sunni Islam and a disciple of the Qadiri Sufi order.[4] His chivalrous behavior was noted by Christian chroniclers, especially in the accounts of the siege of Kerak in Moab, and despite being thenemesis of the Crusaders he won the respect of many of them, including Richard the Lionheart; rather than becoming a hated figure in Europe, he became a celebrated example of the principles of chivalry.

Image of Saladin in the centre of Kerak town, Kerak, Jordan


There are many contemporary and near-contemporary sources available for Saladin’s career. Among Saladin’s admirers who produced personal biographies are the historians: Qadi al-Fadil from Ascalon; Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, and Ibn Shaddad, a jurist from Mosul. Ibn al-Athir(d. 1233), on the other hand, produced a more hostile picture.

Early life

Artistic representation of Saladin.

Saladin was born in Tikrit, Iraq. His family was of Kurdish background and ancestry,[2][3] and had originated from the city of Dvin, in medieval Armenia.[5][6] His father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub, was banished from Tikrit and in 1139, he and his uncle Asad al-Din Shirkuh, moved to Mosul. He later joined the service of Imad ad-Din Zengi who made him commander of his fortress in Baalbek. After the death of Zengi in 1146, his son, Nur ad-Din, became the regent of Aleppo and the leader of theZengids.[7]

Saladin, who now lived in Damascus, was reported to have a particular fondness of the city, but information on his early childhood is scarce. About education, Saladin wrote “children are brought up in the way in which their elders were brought up.” According to one of his biographers, al-Wahrani, Saladin was able to answer questions on Euclid, the Almagest, arithmetic, and law, but this was an academic ideal and it was study of the Qur’an and the “sciences of religion” that linked him to his contemporaries.[7] Several sources claim that during his studies he was more interested in religion than joining the military.[8] Another factor which may have affected his interest in religion was that during the First CrusadeJerusalem was taken in a surprise attack by the Christians.[8] In addition to Islam, Saladin had a knowledge of the genealogies, biographies, and histories of the Arabs, as well as the bloodlines of Arabian horses. More significantly, he knew the Hamasah of Abu Tammam by heart.[7]

Early expeditions

Saladin’s military career began under the tutelage of his uncle Asad al-Din Shirkuh, an important military commander under Nur ad-Din. In 1163, the vizier to the Fatimid caliph al-AdidShawar, had been driven out of Egypt by rival Dirgham, a member of the powerful Banu Ruzzaik tribe. He asked for military backing from Nur ad-Din, who complied and in 1164, sent Shirkuh to aid Shawar in his expedition against Dirgham. Saladin, at age 26, went along with them.[9] After Shawar was successfully reinstated as vizier, he demanded that Shirkuh withdraw his army from Egypt for a sum of 30,000 dinars, but he refused insisting it was Nur ad-Din’s will that he remain. Saladin’s role in this expedition was minor, and it is known that he was ordered by Shirkuh to collect stores from Bilbais prior to its siege by a combined force of Crusaders and Shawar’s troops.[10]

Crusaders hurling the heads of slain Muslims over ramparts during a siege

After the sacking of Bilbais, the Crusader-Egyptian force and Shirkuh’s army were to engage in a battle on the desert border of the Nile River, just west of Giza. Saladin played a major role, commanding the right wing of the Zengid army, while a force ofKurds commanded the left, and Shirkuh stationed in the center. Muslim sources at the time, however, put Saladin in the “baggage of the center” with orders to lure the enemy into a trap by staging a false retreat. The Crusader force enjoyed early success against Shirkuh’s troops, but the terrain was too steep and sandy for their horses, and commander Hugh of Caesarea was captured while attacking Saladin’s unit. After scattered fighting in little valleys to the south of the main position, the Zengid central force returned to the offensive; Saladin joined in from the rear.[11]

The battle ended in a Zengid victory, and Saladin is credited to have helped Shirkuh in one of the “most remarkable victories in recorded history”, according to Ibn al-Athir, although more of Shirkuh’s men were killed and the battle is considered by most sources as not a total victory. Saladin and Shirkuh moved towards Alexandriawhere they were welcomed, given money, arms, and provided a base.[12] Faced by a superior Crusader-Egyptian force who attempted to besiege the city, Shirkuh split his army. He and the bulk of his force withdrew from Alexandria, while Saladin was left with the task of guarding the city.[13]

In Egypt

Main article: Saladin in Egypt

Vizier of Egypt

Saladin’s battles in Egypt

Shirkuh engaged in a power struggle over Egypt with Shawar and Amalric I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in which Shawar requested Amalric’s assistance. In 1169, Shawar was reportedly assassinated by Saladin, and Shirkuh died later that year.[14] Nur ad-Din chose a successor for Shirkuh, but al-Adid appointed Saladin to replace Shawar as vizier.[15]

The reasoning behind the Shia al-Adid’s selection of Saladin, a Sunni, varies. Ibn al-Athirclaims that the caliph chose him after being told by his advisers that “there is no one weaker or younger” than Saladin, and “not one of the emirs obeyed him or served him.” However, according to this version, after some bargaining, he was eventually accepted by the majority of emirs. Al-Adid’s advisers were also suspected of attempting to split the Syria-based Zengid ranks. Al-Wahrani wrote that Saladin was selected because of the reputation of his family in their “generosity and military prowess.” Imad ad-Din wrote that after the brief mourning period of Shirkuh, during which “opinions differed”, the Zengid emirs decided upon Saladin and forced the caliph to “invest him as vizier.” Although positions were complicated by rival Muslim leaders, the bulk of the Syrian rulers supported Saladin due to his role in the Egyptian expedition, in which he gained a record of impeccable military qualifications.[16]

Inaugurated as vizier on March 26, Saladin repented “wine-drinking and turned from frivolity to assume the dress of religion.” Having gained more power and independence than ever before in his career, he still faced the issue of ultimate loyalty between al-Adid and Nur ad-Din. The latter was rumored to be clandestinely hostile towards Saladin’s appointment and was quoted as saying, “how dare he [Saladin] do anything without my orders?” He wrote several letters to Saladin, who dismissed them without abandoning his allegiance to Nur ad-Din.[17]

Later in the year, a group of Egyptian soldiers and emirs attempted to assassinate Saladin, but having already known of their intentions, he had the chief conspirator, Mu’tamin al-Khilafa—the civilian controller of the Fatimid Palace—killed. The day after, 50,000 black African soldiers from the regiments of the Fatimid army opposed to Saladin’s rule along with a number of Egyptian emirs and commoners staged a revolt. By August 23, Saladin had decisively quelled the uprising, and never again had to face a military challenge from Cairo.[18]

Towards the end of 1169, Saladin—with reinforcements from Nur ad-Din—defeated a massive Crusader-Byzantine force near Damietta. Afterward, in the spring of 1170, Nur ad-Din sent Saladin’s father to Egypt in compliance with Saladin’s request, as well as encouragement from the Baghdad-based Abbasid caliph, al-Mustanjid, who aimed to pressure Saladin in deposing his rival caliph, al-Adid.[19] Saladin himself had been strengthening his hold on Egypt and widening his support base there. He began granting his family members high-ranking positions in the region and increased Sunni influence in Cairo; he ordered the construction of a college for the Maliki branch of Sunni Islam in the city, as well as one for the Shafi’i denomination to which he belonged in al-Fustat.[20]

After establishing himself in Egypt, Saladin launched a campaign against the Crusaders, besieging Darum in 1170.[21] Amalric withdrew hisTemplar garrison from Gaza to assist him in defending Darum, but Saladin evaded their force and fell on Gaza instead. He destroyed the town built outside the city’s castle and killed most of its inhabitants after they were refused entry into the castle.[22] It is unclear exactly when, but during that same year, he attacked and captured the Crusader castle of Eilat, built on an island off the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. It did not pose a threat to the passage of the Muslim navy, but could harass smaller parties of Muslim ships and Saladin decided to clear it from his path.[21]

Sultan of Egypt

Saladin as depicted on a Dirham coin, Circa. 1190.

According to Imad ad-Din, Nur ad-Din wrote to Saladin in June 1171, telling him to reestablish the Abbasid caliphate in Egypt, which Saladin coordinated two months later after additional encouragement by Najm ad-Din al-Khabushani, the Shafi’i faqih, who vehemently opposed Shia rule in the country. Several Egyptian emirs were thus killed, but al-Adid was told that they were killed for rebelling against him. He then fell ill, or was poisoned according to one account. While ill, he asked Saladin to pay him a visit to request that he take care of his young children, but Saladin refused, fearing treachery against the Abbasids, and is said to have regretted his action after realizing what al-Adid had wanted.[23] He died on September 13 and five days later, the Abbasidkhutba was pronounced in Cairo and al-Fustat, proclaiming al-Mustadi as caliph.[24]

On September 25, Saladin left Cairo to take part in a joint attack on Kerak and Montreal, the desert castles of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with Nur ad-Din who would attack from Syria. Prior to arriving at Montreal, Saladin withdrew, realizing that if he met Nur ad-Din at Shaubak, he would be refused return to Egypt because of Nur ad-Din’s reluctance to consolidate such massive territorial control to Saladin. Also, there was a chance that the Crusader kingdom—which acted as a buffer state between Syria and Egypt—could have collapsed had the two leaders attacked it from the east and the coast. This would have given Nur ad-Din the opportunity to annex Egypt. Saladin claimed he withdrew amid Fatimid plots against him, but Nur ad-Din did not accept “the excuse.”[24]

During the summer of 1172, a Nubian army along with a contingent of Armenian refugees were reported on the Egyptian border, preparing for a siege against Aswan. The emir of the city had requested Saladin’s assistance and was given reinforcements under Turan-Shah—Saladin’s brother. Consequently, the Nubians departed, but returned in 1173 and were again driven off. This time Egyptian forces advanced from Aswan and captured the Nubian town of Ibrim. Seventeen months after al-Adid’s death, Nur ad-Din had not taken any action regarding Egypt, but expected some return for the 200,000 dinars he had allocated to Shirkuh’s army which seized the country. Saladin paid this debt with 60,000 dinars, “wonderful manufactured goods”, some jewels, an ass of the finest breed, and an elephant. While transporting these goods to Damascus, Saladin took the opportunity to ravage the Crusader countryside. He did not press an attack against the desert castles, but attempted to drive out the Muslim Bedouins who lived in Crusader territory with the aim of depriving the Franks of guides.[25]

On July 31, 1173, Saladin’s father Ayyub was wounded in a horse-riding accident, ultimately causing his death on August 9.[26] In 1174, Saladin sent Turan-Shah to conquer Yemen to allocate it and its port Aden to the territories of the Ayyubid Dynasty. Yemen also served as an emergency territory, to which Saladin could flee in the event of an invasion by Nur ad-Din.

Acquisition of Syria

Capture of Damascus

In the early summer of 1174, Nur ad-Din was mustering an army, sending summons to MosulDiyarbakir, and al-Jazira in an apparent preparation of attack against Saladin’s Egypt. The Ayyubid dynasty held a council upon the revelation of his preparations to discuss the possible threat and Saladin collected his own troops outside Cairo. On May 15, Nur ad-Din died after being poisoned the previous week and his power was handed to his eleven-year-old son as-Salih Ismail al-Malik. His death left Saladin with political independence and in a letter to as-Salih, he promised to “act as a sword” against his enemies and referred to the death of his father as an “earthquake shock.”[27]

In the wake of Nur ad-Din’s death, Saladin faced a difficult decision; he could move his army against the Crusaders from Egypt or wait until invited by as-Salih in Syria to come to his aid and launch a war from there. He could also take it upon himself to annex Syria before it could possibly fall into the hands of a rival, but feared that attacking a land that formerly belonged to his master—which is forbidden in the Islamic principles he followed—could portray him as hypocritical and thus, unsuitable for leading the “holy war” against the Crusaders. Saladin saw that in order to acquire Syria, he either needed an invitation from as-Salih or warn him that potential anarchy and danger from the Crusaders could rise.[28]

When as-Salih was removed to Aleppo in August, Gumushtigin, the emir of the city and a captain of Nur ad-Din’s veterans assumed guardianship over him. The emir prepared to unseat all of his rivals in Syria and al-Jazira, beginning with Damascus. In this emergency, theemir of Damascus appealed to Saif al-Din (a cousin of Gumushtigin) of Mosul for assistance against Aleppo, but he refused, forcing the Syrians to request the aid of Saladin who complied.[29] Saladin rode across the desert with 700 picked horsemen, passing through al-Kerak then reaching Bosra and according to him, was joined by “emirs, soldiers, Kurds, and Bedouins—the emotions of their hearts to be seen on their faces.”[30] On November 23, he arrived in Damascus amid general acclamations and rested at his father’s old home there, until the gates of the Citadel of Damascus were opened to him four days later. He installed himself in the castle and received the homage and salutations of the citizens.[29]

Further conquests

Leaving his brother Tughtigin as Governor of Damascus, Saladin proceeded to reduce other cities that had belonged to Nur ad-Din, but were now practically independent. He gained Hamah with relative ease, but avoided Homs because of the strength of its citadel.[31] Then he moved north towards Aleppo, besieging it on December 30 after Gumushtigin refused to abdicate his throne.[32] As-Salih, afraid of Saladin, came out of the palace and appealed to the inhabitants not to surrender him and the city to the invading force. One of Saladin’s chroniclers claimed “the people came under his spell.”[33]

Gumushtigin requested from Rashid ad-Din Sinan, grand-master of the Assassins who were already at odds with Saladin since he replaced the Fatimids of Egypt, to assassinate Saladin in his camp.[34] A group of thirteen Assassins easily gained admission into Saladin’s camp, but were detected immediately before they carried out their attack. One was killed by a general of Saladin and the others were slain while trying to escape.[33][35] To make the situation more difficult for him, Raymond of Tripoli gathered his forces by Nahr al-Kabir where he was well-placed for an attack on Muslim territory. He later moved toward Homs, but retreated after being told a relief force was being sent to the city by Saif al-Din.[36]

Meanwhile, Saladin’s rivals in Syria and Jazira waged a propaganda war, claiming he had “forgotten his own condition [servant of Nur ad-Din]” and showed no gratitude for his old master by besieging his son, rising “in rebellion against his Lord.” Saladin aimed to counter this propaganda by departing the siege to claim he was defending Islam from the Crusaders; his army returned to Hama to engage a Crusader force there. The Crusaders withdrew beforehand and Saladin proclaimed it “a victory opening the gates of men’s hearts.”[36] Soon after, Saladin entered Homs and captured its citadel in March 1175, after stubborn resistance from its defenders.[37]

Saladin’s successes alarmed Saif al-Din. As head of the descendants of Zengid, including Gumushtigin, he regarded Syria and Mesopotamiaas his family estate and was angered when Saladin attempted to usurp their holdings. Saif al-Din mustered a large army and dispatched it to Aleppo whose defenders anxiously had awaited them. The combined forces of Mosul and Aleppo marched against Saladin in Hama. Heavily outnumbered, he initially attempted to make terms with the Zengids by abandoning all conquests north of the Damascus province, but they refused, insisting he return to Egypt. Seeing that a confrontation was unavoidable, Saladin prepared for battle, taking up a superior position on the hills by the gorge of the Orontes River. On April 13, 1175, the Zengid troops marched to attack his forces, but soon found themselves surrounded by Saladin’s Ayyubid veterans who annihilated them. The battle ended in a decisive victory for Saladin who pursued the Zengid fugitives to the gates of Aleppo, forcing as-Salih’s advisers to recognize his control of the provinces of Damascus, Homs, and Hama, as well as a number of towns outside Aleppo such as Ma’arat al-Numan.[38]

After his victory against the Zengids, Saladin proclaimed himself king and suppressed the name of as-Salih in the Friday prayers and Islamic coinage. From then on, he ordered prayers in all the mosques of Syria and Egypt as the sovereign king and he issued at the Cairo mint gold coins bearing his name—al-Malik an-Nasir Yusuf Ayyub, ala ghaya “the King Strong to Aid, Joseph son of Job; exalted be the standard.” The Abbasid caliph in Baghdad graciously welcomed Saladin’s assumption of power and declared him “Sultan of Egypt and Syria.”[39]

The Battle of Hama did not end the contest for power between the Ayyubids and the Zengids, the final confrontation occurring in the spring of 1176. Saladin had brought up his forces from Egypt and Saif al-Din was levying troops among the minor states of Diyarbakir and al-Jazira.[40]When Saladin crossed the Orontes, leaving Hama, the sun was eclipsed and despite viewing this as an omen, he continued his march north. He reached the Sultan’s Mound, 15 miles (24 km) from Aleppo, where his forces encountered Saif al-Din’s army. A hand-to-hand fight ensued and the Zengids managed to overthrow Saladin’s left wing, driving it before him, when he himself charged at the head of the Zengid guard. The Zengid forces panicked and most of Saif al-Din’s officers were killed or captured—he himself narrowly escaped. The Zengid army’s camp, horses, baggage, tents, and stores were taken by the Ayyubids. The Zengid prisoners, however, were given gifts and freed by Saladin and all of the booty of his victory were handed to the army, not keeping a thing for himself.[41]

He continued towards Aleppo which still closed its gates to him, halting before the city. On the way, his army took Buza’a, then capturedManbij. From there they headed west to besiege the fortress of A’zaz on May 15. A few days later, while Saladin was resting in one of his captain’s tents, an assassin rushed forward at him and struck at his head with a knife. The cap of his head armor was not penetrated and he managed to grip the assassin’s hand—the dagger only slashing his gambeson—and the assailant was soon killed. Saladin was unnerved at the attempt on his life whom he accused Gumushtugin and the Assassins of plotting, and so increased his efforts in the siege.[42]

A’zaz capitulated on June 21, and Saladin then hurried his forces to Aleppo to punish Gumushtigin. His assaults were again resisted, but he managed to secure not only a truce, but a mutual alliance with Aleppo, in which Gumushtigin and as-Salih were allowed to continue their hold on the city and in return, they recognized Saladin as the sovereign over all the dominions he conquered. The emirs of Mardin and Keyfa, the Muslim allies of Aleppo, also recognized Saladin as the King of Syria. When the treaty was concluded, the younger sister of as-Salih came to Saladin and requested the return of the Fortress of A’zaz; he complied and escorted her back to the gates of Aleppo with numerous gifts.[42]

Campaign against Assassins

Saladin had by now agreed truces with his Zengid rivals and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (summer of 1175), but faced a threat from theHashshashin sect (from which the word assassin is said to originate) led by Rashid ad-Din Sinan. Based in the al-Nusayri Mountains, they had nine fortresses atop high elevations. As soon as he dismissed the bulk of his troops to Egypt, Saladin led his army into al-Nusayri range in August 1176, but retreated the same month, after laying waste to the countryside, but failing to conquer any of the forts. Most Muslim historians claim that Saladin’s uncle mediated a peace agreement between him and Sinan.[43] However, the latter’s panegyrist claims Saladin departed due to fears for his own life at the hands of the Assassins. He had chalk and cinders strewed around his tent outside Masyaf—which he laid a siege against—to detect any footsteps by the Assassins and had his guards supplied with link lights.[44]

Al-Jaziri‘s Treatise Automata (1206 AD)

According to his version, one night, Saladin’s guards noticed a spark glowing down the hill of Masyaf and then vanishing among the Ayyubid tents. Presently, Saladin awoke from his sleep to find a figure leaving the tent. He then saw that the lamps were displaced and beside his bed laid hot scones of the shape peculiar to the Assassins with a note at the top pinned by a poisoned dagger. The note threatened that he would be killed if he didn’t withdraw from his assault. Saladin gave a loud cry, exclaiming that Sinan himself was the figure that left the tent. As such, Saladin told his guards to settle an agreement with Sinan.[44] Realizing he was unable to subdue the Assassins, he sought to align himself with them, consequently depriving the Crusaders of a secret weapon.[45]

19th century depiction of a victorious Saladin.

Return to Cairo and forays in Palestine

After leaving the al-Nusayri Mountains, Saladin returned to Damascus and had his Syrian soldiers return home. He left Turan Shah in command of Syria, and left for Egypt with only his personal followers, reaching Cairo on September 22. Having been absent roughly two years, he had much to organize and supervise in Egypt, namely fortifying and reconstructing Cairo. The city walls were repaired and their extensions laid out, while the construction of the Cairo Citadel was commenced.[45] The 280 feet (85 m) deep Bir Yusuf (“Joseph’s Well”) was built on Saladin’s orders. The chief public work he commissioned outside of Cairo was the large bridge at Giza, which intended to form an outwork of defense against a potential Moorish invasion.[46]

Saladin remained in Cairo supervising its improvements, building colleges such as the Madrasa of the Sword Makers and ordering the internal administration of the country. In November 1177, he set out upon a raid into Palestine; the Crusaders had recently forayed into the territory of Damascus and so Saladin saw the truce was no longer worth preserving. The Christians sent a large portion of their army to besiege the fortress of Harim north of Aleppo and so southern Palestine bared few defenders.[46] Saladin found the situation ripe, and so marched to Ascalon, which he referred to as the “Bride of Syria.” William of Tyre recorded that the Ayyubid army consisted of 26,000 soldiers, of which 8,000 were elite forces and 18,000 were black slave soldiers from the Sudan. This army proceeded to raid the countryside, sack Ramla and Lod, and dispersed themselves as far as the Gates of Jerusalem.[47]

Battles and truce with Baldwin

The Ayyubids did allow King Baldwin to enter Ascalon with his Gaza-based Templars without taking any precautions against a sudden attack. Although the Crusader force consisted only of 375 knights, Saladin hesitated to ambush them due to the presence of highly skilled generals. On November 25, while the greater part of the Ayyubid army was absent, Saladin and his men were surprised at Tell Jezer, near Ramla. Before they could form up, the Templar force hacked the Ayyubid army down. Initially, Saladin attempted to organize his men into battle order, but as his bodyguards were being killed, he saw that defeat was inevitable and so with a small remnant of his troops mounted a swift camel, riding all the way to the territories of Egypt.[48]

Not discouraged by his defeat at Tell Jezer, Saladin was prepared to fight the Crusaders once again. In the spring of 1178, he was encamped under the walls of Homs and a few skirmishes occurred between his generals and the Crusader army. His forces in Hama won a victory over their enemy and brought the spoils, together with many prisoners of war to Saladin who ordered the captives to be beheaded for “plundering and laying waste the lands of the Faithful.” He spent the rest of the year in Syria without a confrontation with his enemies.[49]

Saladin’s intelligence services reported to him that the Crusaders were planning a raid into Syria. As such, he ordered one of his generals, Farrukh-Shah, to guard the Damascus frontier with a thousand of his men to watch for an attack, then to retire avoiding battle and lighting warning beacons on the hills on which Saladin would march out. In April 1179, the Crusaders led by King Baldwin expected no resistance and waited to launch a surprise attack on Muslim herders grazing their herds and flocks east of the Golan Heights. Baldwin advanced too rashly in pursuit of Farrukh-Shah’s force which was concentrated southeast of Quneitra and was subsequently defeated by the Ayyubids. With this victory, Saladin decided to call in more troops from Egypt; he requested 1,500 horsemen to be sent by al-Adil.[50]

Jacob’s Ford Battlefield, looking from the west bank to the east bank of the Jordan River.

In the summer of 1179, King Baldwin had set up an outpost on the road to Damascus and aimed to fortify a passage over the Jordan River, known as Jacob’s Ford, that commanded the approach to the Banias plain (the plain was divided by the Muslims and the Christians). Saladin had offered 100,000 gold pieces for Baldwin to abandon the project which was peculiarly offensive to theMuslims, but to no avail. He then resolved to destroy the fortress, moving his headquarters to Banias. As the Crusaders hurried down to attack the Muslim forces, they fell into disorder, with the infantry falling behind. Despite early success, they pursued the Muslims far enough to become scattered and Saladin took advantage by rallying his troops and charged at the Crusaders. The engagement ended in a decisive Ayyubid victory and many high-ranking knights were captured. Saladin then moved to besiege the fortress which fell on August 30, 1179.[51]

In the spring of 1180, while Saladin was in the area of Safad, anxious to commence a vigorous campaign against the Kingdom of Jerusalem, King Baldwin sent messengers to him with proposals of peace. Due to droughts and bad harvests hampering his commissariat, Saladin agreed to a truce. Raymond of Tripoli denounced the truce, but was compelled to accept after an Ayyubid raid in his territory in May and upon the appearance of Saladin’s naval fleet off the port of Tartus.[52]

Domestic issues

Image of a figurine on a concept of a waterclock by al-Jazarî in an Arabian manuscript of 15th century.

In June 1180, Saladin held a reception for Nur al-Din Muhammad, the Artuqid emir of Keyfa, at Geuk Su, in which he presented him and his brother Abu Bakr gifts, valued at over 100,000 dinars according to Imad al-Din. This was intended to cement an alliance with Artuqids and to impress other emirs in Mesopotamia and Anatolia. Previously, Saladin offered to mediate relations between Nur al-Din andKilij Arslan II—the Seljuk Sultan of Rum—after the two came into conflict. The latter demanded Nur al-Din return the lands given to him as a dowry for marrying his daughter when he received reports that she was being abused by him and was used to gain to Seljuk territory. Nur al-Din requested assistance from Saladin, but Arslan refused.[53]

After Nur al-Din and Saladin met at Geuk Su, the top Seljuk emir, Ikhtiyar al-Din al-Hasan, confirmed Arslan’s submission, after which an agreement was drawn up. Saladin was enraged to receive a message from Arslan soon after, complaining of more abuses against his daughter. He threatened to attack the city of Malatya, saying, “it is two days march for me and I shall not dismount [my horse] until I am in the city.”[53] Alarmed at the threat, the Seljuks pushed for negotiations. Saladin felt the Arslan was right to care for his daughter, but Nur al-Din had taken refuge with him, and therefore he could not betray him. It was finally agreed that the woman would be sent away for a year and that if Nur al-Din failed to comply, Saladin would abandon his support for him.[53]

Leaving Farrukh-Shah in charge of Syria, Saladin returned to Cairo at the beginning of 1181; According to Abu-Shama, he intended to spend the fast of Ramadan in Egypt and then make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. For an unknown reason he apparently changed his mind about the pilgrimage and was seen inspecting the Nile River banks in June. He was again embroiled with the Bedouin; he removed two-thirds of their fiefs to use as compensation for the fief-holders at Fayyum which he intended to take over. The Bedouin were also accused of trading with the Crusaders and so their grain was confiscated and they were forced to move westward. Later, warships were waged against Bedouin river pirates who were plundering the shores of Lake Tanis.[54]

In the summer of 1181, Saladin’s former palace administrator Qara-Qush led a force to arrest Majd al-Din—a former deputy of Turan-Shah in the town of Zabid in Yemen—while he was entertaining Imad ad-Din at his estate in Cairo. Saladin’s intimates accused him of misappropriating the revenues of Zabid, but Saladin himself replied there was no evidence against him. He realized the mistake and had Majd al-Din released in return for a payment of 80,000 dinars to him and other sums to Saladin’s brothers al-Adil and Taj al-Muluk Bari. The controversial detainment of Majd al-Din was a part of the larger discontent associated with the aftermath of Turan-Shah’s departure from Yemen; although his deputies continued to send him revenues from the province, centralized authority was lacking and internal quarrel arose between the Izz al-Din Uthman of Aden and Hittan of Zabid. Saladin wrote in a letter to al-Adil: “this Yemen is a treasure house … We conquered it, but up to this day we have had no return and no advantage from it. There have been only innumerable expenses, the sending out of troops … and expectations which did not produce what was hoped for in the end.”[55]

Empire expansions

Conquest of Mesopotamian hinterland

Saif al-Din had died earlier in June 1181 and his brother Izz al-Din inherited leadership of Mosul.[56] On December 4, the crown-prince of the Zengids, as-Salih, died in Aleppo. Prior to his death, he had his chief officers swear an oath of loyalty to Izz al-Din, as he was the only Zengid ruler strong enough to oppose Saladin. Izz al-Din was welcomed in Aleppo, but possessing it and Mosul put too great of a strain on his abilities. He thus, handed Aleppo to his brother Imad al-Din Zangi, in exchange for Sinjar. Saladin offered no opposition to these transactions in order to respect the treaty he previously made with the Zengids.[57]

On May 11, 1182, Saladin along with half of the Egyptian Ayyubid army and numerous non-combatants left Cairo for Syria. On the evening before he departed, he sat with his companions and the tutor of one of his sons quoted a line of poetry: “enjoy the scent of the ox-eye plant ofNajd, for after this evening it will come no more.” Saladin took this as an evil omen and he never saw Egypt again.[56] Knowing that Crusader forces were massed upon the frontier to intercept him, he took the desert route across the Sinai Peninsula to Ailah at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Meeting no opposition, Saladin ravaged the countryside of Montreal, whilst Baldwin’s forces watched on, refusing to intervene.[58] He arrived in Damascus in June to learn that Farrukh-Shah had attacked the Galilee, sacking Daburiyya and capturing Habis Jaldek, a fortress of great importance to the Crusaders. In July, Saladin dispatched Farrukh-Shah to attack Kawkab al-Hawa. Later, in August, the Ayyubids launched a naval and ground assault to capture Beirut; Saladin led his army in the Bekaa Valley. The assault was leaning towards failure and Saladin abandoned the operation to focus on issues in Mesopotamia.[59]

Kukbary, the emir of Harran, invited Saladin to occupy the Jazira region, making up northern Mesopotamia. He complied and the truce between him and the Zengids officially ended in September 1182.[60] Prior to his march to Jazira, tensions had grown between the Zengid rulers of the region, primarily concerning their unwillingness to pay deference to Mosul.[61] Before he crossed the Euphrates River, Saladin besieged Aleppo for three days, signaling that the truce was over.[60]

Once he reached Bira, near the river, he was joined by Kukbary and Nur al-Din of Hisn Kayfa and the combined forces captured the cities of Jazira, one after the other. First, Edessa fell, followed by Saruj, then ar-Raqqah, Karkesiya and Nusaybin.[60] Ar-Raqqah was an important crossing point and held by Qutb al-Din Inal, who had lost Manbij to Saladin in 1176. Upon seeing the large size of Saladin’s army, he made little effort to resist and surrendered on the condition that he would retain his property. Saladin promptly impressed the inhabitants of the town by publishing a decree that ordered a number of taxes to be canceled and erased all mention of them from treasury records, stating “the most miserable rulers are those whose purses are fat and their people thin.” From ar-Raqqah, he moved to conquer al-Fudain, al-Husain, Maksim, Durain, ‘Araban, and Khabur—all of which swore allegiance to him.[62]

Saladin proceeded to take Nusaybin which offered no resistance. A medium-sized town, Nusaybin was not of great importance, but it was located in a strategic position between Mardin and Mosul and within easy reach of Diyarbakir.[63] In the midst of these victories, Saladin received word that the Crusaders were raiding the villages of Damascus. He replied “Let them… whilst they knock down villages, we are taking cities; when we come back, we shall have all the more strength to fight them.”[60] Meanwhile, in Aleppo, the emir of the city Zangi raided Saladin’s cities to the north and east, such as Balis, Manbij, Saruj, Buza’a, al-Karzain. He also destroyed his own citadel at A’zaz to prevent it from being used by the Ayyubids if they were to conquer it.[63]

Possession of Aleppo

Saladin turned his attention from Mosul to Aleppo, sending his brother Taj al-Mulk Buri to capture Tell Khalid, 80 miles (129 km) northeast of the city. A siege was set, but the governor of Tell Khalid surrendered upon the arrival of Saladin himself on May 17 before a siege could take place. According to Imad ad-Din, after Tell Khalid, Saladin took a detour northwards to Ain Tab, but he gained possession of it when his army turned towards it, allowing to quickly move backward another 60 miles (97 km) towards Aleppo. On May 21, he camped outside the city, positioning himself east of the Citadel of Aleppo, while his forces encircles the suburb of Banaqusa to the northeast and Bab Janan to the west. He stationed his men dangerously close to the city, hoping for an early success.[64]

Zangi did not offer long resistance. He was unpopular with his subjects and wished to return to his Sinjar, the city he governed previously. An exchange was negotiated where Zangi would hand over Aleppo to Saladin in return for the restoration of his control of Sinjar, Nusaybin, and ar-Raqqa. Zangi would hold these territories as Saladin’s vassals on terms of military service. On June 12, Aleppo was formally placed in Ayyubid hands.[65] The people of Aleppo had not known about these negotiations and were taken by surprise when Saladin’s standard was hoisted over the citadel. Two emirs, including an old friend of Saladin, Izz al-Din Jurduk, welcomed and pledged their service to him. Saladin replaced the Hanafi courts with Shafi’i administration, despite a promise he would not interfere in the religious leadership of the city. Although he was short of money, Saladin also allowed the departing Zangi to take all the stores of the citadel that he could travel with and to sell the remainder—which Saladin purchased himself.[66]

In spite of his earlier hesitation to go through with the exchange, he had no doubts about his success, stating that Aleppo was “the key to the lands” and “this city is the eye of Syria and the citadel is its pupil.”[67] For Saladin, the capture of the city marked the end of over eight years of waiting since he told Farrukh-Shah “we have only to do the milking and Aleppo will be ours.” From his standpoint, he could now threaten the entire Crusader coast.[68]

After spending one night in Aleppo’s citadel, Saladin marched to Harim, near the Crusader-held Antioch. The city was held by Surhak, a “minor mamluk.” Saladin offered him the city of Busra and property in Damascus in exchange for Harim, but when Surhak asked for more, his own garrison in Harim forced him out.[68] He was then arrested by Saladin’s deputy Taqi al-Din on allegations that he was planning to cede Harim to Bohemond III of Antioch. When Saladin received its surrender, he proceeded to arrange the defense of Harim from the Crusaders. He reported to the caliph and his own subordinates in Yemen and Baalbek that was going to attack the Armenians. Before he could move, however, there were a number of administrative details to be settled. Saladin agreed to a truce with Bohemond in return for Muslim prisoners being held by him and then he gave A’zaz to Alam ad-Din Suleiman and Aleppo to Saif al-Din al-Yazkuj—the former was anemir of Aleppo who joined Saladin and the latter was a former mamluk of Shirkuh who helped rescue him from the assassination attempt at A’zaz.[69]

Fight for Mosul

As Saladin approached Mosul, he faced the issue of taking over a large city and justifying the action.[70] The Zengids of Mosul appealed toan-Nasir, the Abbasid caliph at Baghdad whose vizier favored them. An-Nasir sent Badr al-Badr (a high-ranking religious figure) to mediate between the two sides. Saladin arrived at the city on November 10, 1182. Izz al-Din would not accept his terms because he considered them disingenuous and extensive, and Saladin immediately laid siege to the heavily fortified city.[71]

After several minor skirmishes and a stalemate in the siege that was initiated by the caliph, Saladin intended to find a way to withdraw from the siege without damage to his reputation while still keeping up some military pressure. He decided to attack Sinjar which was now held by Izz al-Din’s brother Sharaf al-Din. It fell after a 15-day siege on December 30.[72] Saladin’s commanders and soldiers broke their discipline, plundering the city; Saladin only managed to protect the governor and his officers by sending them to Mosul. After establishing a garrison at Sinjar, he awaited a coalition assembled by Izz al-Din consisting of his forces, those from Aleppo, Mardin, and Armenia.[73] Saladin and his army met the coalition at Harran in February 1183, but on hearing of his approach, the latter sent messengers to Saladin asking for peace. Each force returned to their cities and al-Fadil writes “They [Izz al-Din’s coalition] advanced like men, like women they vanished.”

On March 2, al-Adil from Egypt wrote to Saladin that the Crusaders had struck the “heart of Islam.” Raynald de Châtillon had sent ships to from the Gulf of Aqaba to raid towns and villages off the coast of the Red Sea. It was not an attempt to extend the Crusader influence into that sea or to capture its trade routes, but merely a piratical move.[74] Nonetheless, Imad al-Din writes the raid was alarming to the Muslims because they were not accustomed to attacks on that sea and Ibn al-Athir adds that the inhabitants had no experience with the Crusaders either as fighters or traders.[75]

Ibn Jubair was told that sixteen Muslim ships were burnt by the Crusaders who then captured a pilgrim ship and caravan at Aidab. He also reported they intended to attack Medina and remove Muhammad‘s body. Al-Maqrizi added to the rumor by claiming Muhammad’s tomb was going to be relocated Crusader territory so Muslims would make pilgrimages there. Fortunately for Saladin, al-Adil had his warships moved from Fustat and Alexandria to the Red Sea under the command of an Armenian mercenary Lu’lu. They broke the Crusader blockade, destroyed most of their ships, and pursued and captured those who anchored and fled into the desert.[76] The surviving Crusaders, numbered at 170, were ordered to be killed by Saladin in various Muslim cities.[77]

From Saladin’s own point of view, in terms of territory, the war against Mosul was going well, but he still failed to achieve his objectives and his army was shrinking; Taqi al-Din took his men back to Hama, while Nasir al-Din Muhammad and his forces had left. This encouraged Izz al-Din and his allies to take the offensive. The previous coalition regrouped at Harzam some 90 miles (145 km) from Harran. In early April, without waiting for Nasir al-Din, Saladin and Taqi al-Din commenced their advance against the coalition, marching eastward to Ras al-Ein unhindered.[78] By late April, after three days of “actual fighting” according to Saladin, the Ayyubids had captured Amid. He handed the city Nur al-Din Muhammad together with its stores—which consisted of 80,000 candles, a tower full of arrowheads, and 1,040,000 books. In return for a diploma granting him the city, Nur al-Din swore allegiance to Saladin, promising to follow him in every expedition in the war against the Crusaders and repairing damage done to the city. The fall of Amid, in addition to territory, convinced Il-Ghazi of Mardin to enter the service of Saladin, weakening Izz al-Din’s coalition.[79]

Saladin attempted to gain the Caliph an-Nasir’s support against Izz al-Din by sending him a letter requesting a document that would give him legal justification for taking over Mosul and its territories. Saladin aimed to persuade the caliph claiming that while he conquered Egypt and Yemen under the flag of the Abbasids, the Zengids of Mosul openly supported the Seljuks (rivals of the caliphate) and only came to the caliph when in need. He also accused Izz al-Din’s forces of disrupting the Muslim “Holy War” against the Crusaders, stating “they are not content not to fight, but they prevent those who can.” Saladin defended his own conduct claiming that he had come to Syria to fight the Crusaders, end the heresy of the Assassins, and to end the wrong-doing of the Muslims. He also promised that if Mosul was given to him, it would lead to the capture of Jerusalem, ConstantinopleGeorgia, and the lands of the Almohads in the Maghreb, “until the word of God is supreme and the Abbasid caliphate has wiped the world clean, turning the churches into mosques.” Saladin stressed that all this would happen by the will of God and instead of asking for financial or military support from the caliph, he would capture and give the caliph the territories of Tikrit,DaquqKhuzestanKish Island, and Oman.[80]

Wars against Crusaders

Saladin and Guy of Lusignan after Battle of Hattin

On September 29, Saladin crossed the Jordan River to attack Beisan which was found to be empty. The next day his forces sacked and burned the town and moved westwards. They intercepted Crusader reinforcements from Karak and Shaubak along the Nablus road and took a number of prisoners. Meanwhile, the main Crusader force under Guy of Lusignan moved fromSepphoris to al-Fula. Saladin sent out 500 skirmishers to harass their forces and he himself marched to Ain Jalut. When the Crusader force—reckoned to be the largest the kingdom ever produced from its own resources, but still outmatched by the Muslims—advanced, the Ayyubids unexpectedly moved down the stream of Ain Jalut. After a few Ayyubid raids—including attacks onZir’inForbelet, and Mount Tabor—the Crusaders still were not tempted to attack their main force, and Saladin led his men back across the river once provisions and supplies ran low.[69]

However, Crusader attacks provoked further responses by Saladin. Raynald of Châtillon, in particular, harassed Muslim trading and pilgrimage routes with a fleet on the Red Sea, a water route that Saladin needed to keep open. In response, Saladin built a fleet of 30 galleys to attack Beirut in 1182. Raynald threatened to attack the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In retaliation, Saladin twice besieged Kerak, Raynald’s fortress in Oultrejordain, in 1183 and 1184. Raynald responded by looting a caravan of pilgrims on the Hajj in 1185. According to the later thirteenth century Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, Raynald captured Saladin’s sister in a raid on a caravan, although this claim is not attested in contemporary sources, Muslim or Frankish, instead stating that Raynald had attacked a preceding caravan, and Saladin set guards to ensure the safety of his sister and her son, who came to no harm.

Following the failure of his Kerak sieges, Saladin temporarily turned his attention back to another long-term project and resumed attacks on the territory of ʻIzz ad-Dīn (Masʻūd ibn Mawdūd ibn Zangi), around Mosul, which he had begun with some success in 1182. However, since then, Masʻūd had allied himself with the powerful governor of Azerbaijan and Jibal, who in 1185 began moving his troops across the Zagros Mountains, causing Saladin to hesitate in his attacks. The defenders of Mosul, when they became aware that help was on the way, increased their efforts, and Saladin subsequently fell ill, so in March 1186 a peace treaty was signed.[81]

In July 1187 Saladin captured most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. On July 4, 1187, at the Battle of Hattin, he faced the combined forces ofGuy of LusignanKing Consort of Jerusalem and Raymond III of Tripoli. In this battle alone the Crusader army was largely annihilated by the motivated army of Saladin. It was a major disaster for the Crusaders and a turning point in the history of the Crusades. Saladin captured Raynald de Châtillon and was personally responsible for his execution in retaliation for his attacking Muslim caravans. The members of these caravans had, in vain, besought his mercy by reciting the truce between the Muslims and the Crusaders, but he ignored this and insulted their prophet Muhammad before murdering and torturing a number of them. Upon hearing this, Saladin swore an oath to personally execute Raynald.[82]

Guy of Lusignan was also captured. Seeing the execution of Raynald, he feared he would be next. But his life was spared by Saladin with the words, talking about Raynald:

It is not the wont of kings, to kill kings; but that man had transgressed all bounds, and therefore did I treat him thus.[83]

Capture of Jerusalem

Saladin had captured almost every Crusader city. Jerusalem capitulated to his forces on October 2, 1187, after a siege. Before the siege, Saladin had offered generous terms of surrender, which were rejected. After the siege had started, he was unwilling to promise terms of quarter to the Frankish inhabitants of Jerusalem until Balian of Ibelin threatened to kill every Muslim hostage, estimated at 5000, and to destroy Islam’s holy shrines of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque if quarter was not given. Saladin consulted his council and these terms were accepted. Ransom was to be paid for each Frank in the city whether man, woman or child. Saladin allowed many to leave without having the required amount for ransom for others,[84][85] but most of the foot soldiers were sold into slavery.[86] Upon the capture of Jerusalem, Saladin summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city.[87] In particular, the residents of Ashkelon, a large Jewish settlement, responded to his request.[88]

Tyre, on the coast of modern-day Lebanon, was the last major Crusader city that was not captured by Muslim forces (strategically, it would have made more sense for Saladin to capture Tyre before Jerusalem—however, Saladin chose to pursue Jerusalem first because of the importance of the city to Islam). The city was now commanded by Conrad of Montferrat, who strengthened Tyre’s defences and withstood two sieges by Saladin. In 1188, at Tortosa, Saladin released Guy of Lusignan and returned him to his wife, Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem. They went first to Tripoli, then to Antioch. In 1189, they sought to reclaim Tyre for their kingdom, but were refused admission by Conrad, who did not recognize Guy as king. Guy then set about besieging Acre.

Third Crusade

It is equally true that his generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in Frankish Syria than in the lands of Islam.

René Grousset (writer)[89]

Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem prompted the Third Crusade, financed in England by a special “Saladin tithe“. Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart) led Guy’s siege ofAcre, conquered the city and executed 3000 Muslim prisoners including women and children.[90] Saladin retaliated by killing all Franks captured from August 28 – September 10. Bahā’ ad-Dīn writes, “Whilst we were there they brought two Franks to the Sultan (Saladin) who had been made prisoners by the advance guard. He had them beheaded on the spot.”[91]

The armies of Saladin engaged in combat with the army of King Richard at the Battle of Arsuf on September 7, 1191, at which Saladin was defeated. All attempts made by Richard the Lionheart to re-take Jerusalem failed. However, Saladin’s relationship with Richard was one of chivalrous mutual respect as well as military rivalry. When Richard became ill with fever, Saladin offered the services of his personal physician. Saladin also sent him fresh fruit with snow, to chill the drink, as treatment. At Arsuf, when Richard lost his horse, Saladin sent him two replacements. Richard suggested to Saladin that Palestine, Christian and Muslim, could be united through the marriage of his sister Joan of England, Queen of Sicily, to Saladin’s brother, and that Jerusalem could be their wedding gift.[citation needed] However, the two men never met face to face and communication was either written or by messenger.

As leaders of their respective factions, the two men came to an agreement in the Treaty of Ramla in 1192, whereby Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands but would be open to Christian pilgrimages. The treaty reduced the Latin Kingdom to a strip along the coast from Tyre toJaffa. This treaty was supposed to last three years.


A Knight without fear or blame who often had to teach his opponents the right way to practice chivalry.

An inscription written by Kaiser Wilhelm II on a wreath he laid on Saladin’s Tomb.[89]

Saladin died of a fever on March 4, 1193, at Damascus, not long after Richard’s departure. Since Saladin had given most of his possessions and money away for charity, when they opened his treasury, they found there was not enough money to pay for his funeral.[92] He was buried in a mausoleum in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in DamascusSyria.

Seven centuries later, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany donated a new marblesarcophagus to the mausoleum. Saladin was, however, not placed in it. Instead the mausoleum, which is open to visitors, now has twosarcophagi: one, empty made of marble and the original, which holds Saladin, which is made of wood.


According to Imad al-Din, Saladin had fathered five sons before he left Egypt in 1174. Saladin’s eldest son, al-Afdal was born in 1170 andUthman was born in 1172 to Shamsa who accompanied Saladin to Syria. Al-Afdal’s mother bore Saladin another child in 1177. A letter preserved by Qalqashandi records that a twelfth son was born in May 1178, while on Imad al-Din’s list, he appears as Saladin’s seventh son. Mas’ud was born in 1175 and Yaq’ub in 1176, the latter to Shamsa. Nur al-Din’s widow, Ismat al-Din Khatun, remarried to Saladin in September 1176. Ghazi and Da’ud were born to the same mother in 1173 and 1178, respectively, and the mother of Ishaq who was born in 1174 also gave birth to another son in July 1182.[93]

Recognition and legacy

Western world

Saladin’s tomb, nearUmayyad Mosque‘s NW corner.

Saladin’s tomb in Damascus,Syria.

His fierce struggle against the crusaders was where Saladin achieved a great reputation in Europe as a chivalrous knight, so much so that there existed by the fourteenth century an epic poem about his exploits. Though Saladin faded into history after the Middle Ages, he appears in a sympathetic light in Sir Walter Scott‘s novel The Talisman (1825). It is mainly from this novel that the contemporary view of Saladin originates. According to Jonathan Riley-Smith, Scott’s portrayal of Saladin was that of a “modern [19th Century] liberal European gentlemen, beside whom medieval Westerners would always have made a poor showing.”[94]Despite the Crusaders’ slaughter when they originally conquered Jerusalem in 1099, Saladin granted amnesty and free passage to all common Catholics and even to the defeated Christian army, as long as they were able to pay the aforementioned ransom (the Greek Orthodox Christians were treated even better, because they often opposed the western Crusaders). An interesting view of Saladin and the world in which he lived is provided byTariq Ali‘s novel The Book of Saladin.[95] Though contemporary views on Saladin are often positive, Saladin’s qualities are often exaggerated, mainly under influence of the image created during the 19th century.

Notwithstanding the differences in beliefs, the Muslim Saladin was respected by Christian lords, Richard especially. Richard once praised Saladin as a great prince, saying that he was without doubt the greatest and most powerful leader in the Islamic world.[96] Saladin in turn stated that there was not a more honorable Christian lord than Richard. After the treaty, Saladin and Richard sent each other many gifts as tokens of respect, but never met face to face.

In April 1191, a Frankish woman’s three month old baby had been stolen from her camp and had been sold on the market. The Franks urged her to approach Saladin herself with her grievance. According to Bahā’ al-Dīn, Saladin used his own money to buy the child back:

He gave it to the mother and she took it; with tears streaming down her face, and hugged it to her breast. The people were watching her and weeping and I (Ibn Shaddad) was standing amongst them. She suckled it for some time and then Saladin ordered a horse to be fetched for her and she went back to camp.[97]

According to the some sources, British Commander General Edmund Allenby during World War I, proudly declared “today the wars of the Crusaders are completed ” by rising up his sword towards statue of Saladin after capture of Damascus from Turkish troops. This quotation is incorrectly attributed to Allenby, as throughout his life he vehemently protested against his conquest of Palestine in 1917 being called a “Crusade”. In 1933 Allenby reiterated this stance by saying: “The importance of Jerusalem lay in its strategic importance, there was no religious impulse in this campaign”.[98] As well British press celebrated his victory with cartoons of Richard the Lion-Hearted looking down at Jerusalem above the caption “At last my dream come true.”[99][100] After French General Henri Gouraud entered the city in July 1920 and kicking Saladin’s tomb, Gouraud exclaimed, “Awake Saladin, we have returned. My presence here consecrates the victory of the Cross over the Crescent.”[101]

Muslim world

The Eagle of Saladin in the Egyptian coat of arms

In 1898 German Emperor Wilhelm II visited Saladin’s tomb to pay his respects. The visit, coupled with anti-colonial sentiments, led nationalist Arabs to reinvent the image of Saladin and portray him as a hero of the struggle against the West. The image of Saladin they used was the romantic one created by Walter Scott and other Europeans in the West at the time, as Saladin had been a figure entirely forgotten in the Muslim world[citation needed]. This was mainly because of Saladin’s short-lived “quasi-empire” and evident lack of commitment to religion[citation needed], plus his eclipse by more successful figures such as Baybars of Egypt.[102]

Modern Arab states have sought to commemorate Saladin through various measures, often based on the image created of him in the 19th century west[citation needed]. A governorate centered around Tikrit and Samarra in modern-day IraqSalah ad Din Governorate, is named after him, as is Salahaddin University in Arbil,the largest city of Iraqi Kurdistan. A suburb community of Arbil, Masif Salahaddin, is also named after him.

Few structures associated with Saladin survive within modern cities. Saladin first fortified the Citadel of Cairo(1175–1183), which had been a domed pleasure pavilion with a fine view in more peaceful times. In Syria, even the smallest city is centred on a defensible citadel, and Saladin introduced this essential feature to Egypt.

Saladin castle sept 2009 4077.jpgSaladin castle sept 2009 4101.jpg

Saladin castle sept 2009 4098.jpgSaladin castle sept 2009 4100.jpg

Saladin castle sept 2009 4106.jpgSaladin castle sept 2009 4099.jpg

Among the forts he built was Qalaat al-Gindi, a mountaintop fortress and caravanserai in the Sinai. The fortress overlooks a large wadi which was the convergence of several caravan routes that linked Egypt and the Middle East. Inside the structure are a number of large vaulted rooms hewn out of rock, including the remains of shops and a water cistern. A notable archaeological site, it was investigated in 1909 by a French team under Jules Barthoux.[103]

Although the Ayyubid dynasty that he founded would only outlive him by 57 years, the legacy of Saladin within the Arab World continues to this day. With the rise of Arab nationalism in the Twentieth Century, particularly with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Saladin’s heroism and leadership gained a new significance. Saladin’s liberation of Palestine from the European Crusaders was put forth the inspiration for the modern-day Arabs’ opposition to Zionism.

Moreover, the glory and comparative unity of the Arab World under Saladin was seen as the perfect symbol for the new unity sought by Arab nationalists, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser. For this reason, the Eagle of Saladin became the symbol of revolutionary Egypt, and was subsequently adopted by several other Arab states (Iraq, the Palestinian Territory, and Yemen).

The Ottoman Empire

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The Ottomans: Anatolian March Principality, 1300-1366

1299-1324 , Osman I Gazi. Establishes rule around Bursa in NW Anatolia

1324-1360 , Orhan I Gazi. Crosses into Balkans in 1345 as ally of Byzantine Emperor, John Cantacuzenus, against Serbs; marries his daughter, Theodora; 1353, John C. Again calls in Orhan and this time Ottomans stay; set up base at Gallipoli; JohnC. seeks help from Bulgars and Serbs against Ottomans but they refuse; John C. abdicates (1354 ) and is succeeded by John Palaeologus. Ottoman capital at Bursa.

The Ottomans: Balkan Kingdom, 1365-1403

1350-1389, Murat I. Successful campaign in Thrace obliges John V, Palaelogus, to recognize capture of Philippopolis and Adrianople (Edirne) and to agree to become Ottoman vassal (1363); Murat moves Ottoman capital to Edirne in 1366; origins of Janissary Corps and the devshirme probably date to Murat’s reign. King Sisman of Bulgaria defeated, accepts vassal status in 1379; Serbs defeated and dynasty of Stephen Dusban ended; John V appeals to Christian Europe but gets no help; his vassaldom deepens, must render military service to sultan and give over his son as hostage far punctual performance of his obligations; Macedonia is conquered; completion of subjugation of Bulgaria and Serbia; Sofia falls in 1385; one last concerted effort by Balkan Slavs against Ottomans at Battle of Kossovo (1389) ends in complete Ottoman victory, but during the battle Sultan Murat assassinated by a Serb pretending to be a traitor, Milosh Obilic. Murat’s son, Bayezit, assumes command and immediately executes his brother to avoid possibility of a dynastic struggle.

1389-1403, Bayezit I, Yildirim(The Thunderbolt). Bayezit takes the throne and finishes off the victory at Kossovo, captures and executes Lazar (last Serbian tsar) whose daughter, Despina, becomes a wife of the Ottoman sultan. 1393, Bulgarian dynasty is extinguished and Bulgarian patriarchate ended; Bulgarian lands are absorbed and Bulgarian church reduced to dependence on Greek patriarchate at Byzantium. 1394, Pope Boniface IX proclaims crusade at urging of King Sigismund of Hungary; led by Sigismund, Catholic forces are defeated by Ottomans in Battle of Nikopolis (1396). With no effective resistance remaining, Ottomans conquer most of Greece and southern Albania. The Balkans, except for the immediate areas around Constantinople, Athens, and Salonika and the extreme southern Morea are ruled by Bayezit from his capital at Edirne. Administrative structure strengthened and centralized through elaboration of tahrir-defter (cadastral survey-record books) system based on military fiefs (timars). Expansion of Ottoman rule eastward over Anatolian principalities through combination of diplomacy, dynastic marriages, and military expeditions brings Ottomans into conflict with Timur Leak (Tamerlane) who invades Anatolia and challenges Bayezit at battle of Ankara in 1402. Bayezit is defeated, captured, dies in captivity in 1403.

The Ottomans: From Ankara to Constantinople, 1403 – 1453

1403-1413, dynastic struggle; civil war among Bayezit’s sons; Suleyman and Musa eventually killed; Mehmet emerges as victor; Christians fail to take advantage of this opportunity to throw off Ottoman rule.

1413-1421, Mehmet I, the Restorer. Devotes his energy to reunification of Ottoman lands and reconsolidation of sultan’s authority; European territories kept fairly intact and most Anatolian provinces recovered; avoiding unnecessary foreign conflicts, Mehmet provides a breathing period in which to heal wounds and reintegrate previous conquests.

1421-1451, Murat II. A strange combination of worrier and saintly recluse. Resumes expansion in Europe; wars with Venice; Salonika falls; Ottomans occupy most of

Albania and Epirus. War with Hungary provokes another crusade against Ottomans; coalition of Hungary, Poland, Bosnia, Wallachia, and Serbia led by the Hungarian, John Hunyadi, wins a victory; Murat signs ten-year truce at Szegedin (1444 ), voluntarily abdicates in favor of his 14-year-old son, Mehmet, and retires to life of religious study and contemplation. Hungarians, encouraged by the Papacy, break truce and renew crusade; Murat comes out of seclusion, resumes throne, and defeats crusaders at Varna. Four years later (1448 ), in second Battle of Kossovo, Murat defeats Hunyadi who has again invaded Serbia, ending any serious threat from Hungary; Albania, under Scanderbeg, continues to resist. The essentially conservative policy of Murat’s reign reflects the influence of the Jandarli viziers.

1451 – 1481, Mehmet II, Fatih (The Conqueror). Fall of Constantinople in 1453 only the beginning of an aggressive policy of conquest; capital moved from Edirne to Istanbul; shift of political power from provincial notables and feudal lords to the sultan’s slaves (kapikullari); the Palace School and the organization of religious education through the medrese system; elaborate court and expanded bureaucracy; the imperial tradition is firmly established and the classical age of the Ottoman Empire has begun. War with Serbia, aided by Hungary; Hunyadi and the Serbian king, Brankovich, both die in 1457; family quarrels over succession; one claimant appeals to Pope for aid, offering to make Serbia a papal dependency; people declare they prefer rule of Muslim Sultan to Catholic Pope and open their cities to Mehmet; Serbian independence ends in 1459. Ottomans invade Bosnia in 1453; Bosnian nobles refuse to support Catholic king, Stephen, and hand over fortresses to Mehmet, many converting to Islam at the same time, thus beginning the process which ultimately sees most Bosnians become Muslims. Herzegovina is occupied a year or so later, and Albania is absorbed following Skanderbeg’s death in 1467. War with Venice ends in 1479 with the Venetians giving up Scutari (Uskudar) and other stations on the coast and agreeing to pay a tribute for permission to trade in the Black Sea. In 1480, an Ottoman force occupies Otranto in southern Italy, causing panic throughout the Catholic Europe. Mehmet besieges Rhodes (1480-81), held by the Knights of St. John, a relic of the Crusades, but dies before the siege is successful.

Assembled by Richard L. Chambers,
The University of Chicago

The Ottoman sultans and their dynasty

See also

The Ottoman sultan was the absolute ruler of the territory. He was the head of the state and head of the government, and his words were the Law. He was the political, military, judicial, social, and religious leader. He was responsible only to Allah and God’s Law, known as the Seriat (Sharia).

The Sultanate was inherited from father to the son during the early days of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Fatih Mehmet, following the struggle for power between Yildirim Bayezit‘s sons for the throne, in the 15th century enacted the ruling of the murder of other siblings once the eldest was throned, in a decree (Ferman) named after himself. This application which was known as the “survival of the fittest” was enforced for about 250 years, until it was abandoned at the beginning of the 17th century and replaced with the rule of the “eldest family member” upon the death of a sultan. That is why after the 17th century a deceased sultan was rarely succeeded by his own son but usually by an uncle or brother. Also, all prospective future heirs to the throne were forced to live in the Harem‘s “cage” section, cut off from the rest of the world.

There were a total of 36 sultans who ruled between 1299-1922. The sultans of the Ottoman Empire, in chronological order, were:

Osman Gazi (1299-1324 or 1326)
Orhan Gazi (1324 or 1326-1360)
Murat I (1360-1389)
Yildirim Bayazid I (1389-1403)
Mehmet I (1403-1421)
Murat II (1421-1444 and 1446-1451)
Fatih Mehmet II (1444-1446 and 1451-1481)
Beyazid II (1481-1512)
Yavuz Selim I (1512-1520)
Suleyman I (1520-1566)
Selim II (1566-1574)
Murad III (1574-1595)
Mehmet III (1595-1603)
Ahmed I (1603-1617)
Mustafa I (1617-1618 and 1622-1623)
Genc Osman II (1618-1622)
Murad IV (1623-1640)
Ibrahim (1640-1648)
Avci Mehmed IV (1648-1687)
Suleyman II (1687-1691)
Ahmed II (1691-1695)
Avci Mehmed V (1648-1687)
Suleyman III (1687-1691)
Ahmed II (1691-1695)
Mustafa II (1695-1703)
Ahmed III (1703-1730)
Mahmud I (1730-1754)
Osman III (1754-1757)
Mustafa III (1757-1774)
Abdulhamid I (1774-1789)
Selim III (1789-1807)
Mustafa IV (1807-1808)
Mahmud II (1808-1839)
Abdulmecit (1839-1861)
Abdulaziz (1861-1876)
Murad V (1876)
Abdulhamid II (1876-1909)
Mehmed V (1909-1918)
Mehmed Vahdettin VI (1918-1922)

Vahdettin was the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire. In November 1922, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the sultanate, so Vahdettin and his family were sent into exile in Europe. The sultan’s descendants were not allowed to enter Turkey for about 50 years, when in 1974 the Turkish Grand National Assembly granted them the right to acquire Turkish citizenship if they requested. The last surviving heir to the past Ottoman throne, Mr. Ertugrul Osman, who was 4th in line to the throne, died in Istanbul on 23rd of September 2009 at the age of 97.

Pressured out of their homes in the Asian steppes by the Mongols, the Turkish nomadic tribes converted to Islam during the eighth and ninth centuries. By the tenth century, one of the Turkish tribes, the Seljuk, had become a significant power in the Islamic world and had adopted a settled life that included Islamic orthodoxy, a central administration, and taxation. However, many other Turkish groups remained nomadic and, pursuing the gazi tradition, sought to conquer land for Islam and to acquire war booty for themselves. This led them into conflict with the Seljuk Turks, and to pacify the nomadic tribes, the Seljuks directed them to the eastern domain of the Byzantine Empire, Anatolia. The tribe known as the Ottomans arose from one of the smaller emirates established in northwestern Anatolia after 1071. The dynasty was named for Osman (1259-1326), who began to expand his kingdom into the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor, moving his capital to Bursa in 1326.

Ottoman Empire

( enlarge this map )

The political and geographical entity governed by the Muslim Ottoman Turks. Their empire was centered in present-day Turkey, and extended its influence into southeastern Europe as well as the Middle East. Europe was only temporarily able to resist their advance: the turning point came at the Battle of Varna in 1444 when a European coalition army failed to stop the Turkish advance. Only Constantinople (Istanbul) remained in Byzantine hands and its conquest in 1453 seemed inevitable after Varna. The Turks subsequently established an empire in Anatolia and southeastern Europe which lasted until the early twentieth century.

Although the Ottoman Empire is not considered a European kingdom per se, Ottoman expansion had a profound impact on a continent already stunned by the calamities of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and the Ottoman Turks must, therefore, be considered in any study of Europe in the late Middle Ages. The ease with which the Ottoman Empire achieved military victories led Western Europeans to fear that ongoing Ottoman success would collapse the political and social infrastructure of the West and bring about the downfall of Christendom. Such a momentous threat could not be ignored and the Europeans mounted crusades against the Ottomans in 1366, 1396, and 1444, but to no avail. The Ottomans continued to conquer new territories.

One of a number of Turkish tribes that migrated from the central Asian steppe, the Ottomans were initially a nomadic people who followed a primitive shamanistic religion. Contact with various settled peoples led to the introduction of Islam and under Islamic influence, the Turks acquired their greatest fighting tradition, that of the gazi warrior. Well trained and highly skilled, gazi warriors fought to conquer the infidel, acquiring land and riches in the process.

While the gazi warriors fought for Islam, the greatest military asset of the Ottoman Empire was the standing paid army of Christian soldiers, the Janissaries. Originally created in 1330 by Orhan, the janissaries were Christian captives from conquered territories. Educated in the Islamic faith and trained as soldiers, the janissaries were forced to provide annual tribute in the form of military service. To counter the challenges of the gazi nobility, Murad I (1319-1389) transformed the new military force into the elite personal army of the Sultan. They were rewarded for their loyalty with grants of newly acquired land and janissaries quickly rose to fill the most important administrative offices of the Ottoman Empire.

During the early history of the Ottoman Empire, political factions within Byzantium employed the Ottoman Turks and the janissaries as mercenaries in their own struggles for imperial supremacy. In the 1340’s, a usurper’s request for Ottoman assistance in a revolt against the emperor provided the excuse for an Ottoman invasion of Thrace on the northern frontier of the Byzantine Empire. The conquest of Thrace gave the Ottomans a foothold in Europe from which future campaigns into the Balkans and Greece were launched and Adrianople (Edirne) became the Ottoman capital in 1366. Over the next century, the Ottomans developed an empire that took in Anatolia and increasingly larger sections of Byzantine territories in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor.

Ottoman expansion into Europe was well underway in the late 14th century. Gallipoli was conquered in 1354 and a vast crusading army was crushed at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. The disaster was so great that the knights of Western Europe were discouraged of launching a new expedition against the Turks. The appearance of the Tatars under Tamerlane early in the fifteenth century temporarily delayed Turkish advances but the Ottomans soon resumed attacks on Byzantium and Eastern Europe. A Hungarian – Polish army was decimated at Varna in 1444 by Murad II and Ottoman conquests were virtually unchecked during the reign of his son, Mehmed II the Conqueror (1432-1481).

Constantinople itself was captured in 1453, sending a shock wave across Europe, and its name was changed to Istanbul. With the fall of Byzantium, a wave of Byzantine refugees fled to the Latin West, carrying with them the classical and Hellenistic knowledge that provided additional impetus to the burgeoning humanism of the Renaissance.

Athens fell in 1456 and Belgrade narrowly escaped capture when a peasant army led by the Hungarian Janos Hunyadi held off a siege in the same year, nevertheless, Serbia, Bosnia, Wallachia, and the Khanate of Crimea were all under Ottoman control by 1478. The Turks commanded the Black Sea and the northern Aegean and many prime trade routes had been closed to European shipping. The Islamic threat loomed even larger when an Ottoman beachhead was established at Otranto in Italy in 1480.

Although the Turkish presence in Italy was short-lived, it appeared as if Rome itself must soon fall into Islamic hands. In 1529, the Ottomans had moved up the Danube and besieged Vienna. The siege was unsuccessful and the Turks began to retreat. Although the Ottomans continued to instill fear well into the 16th century, internal struggles began to deteriorate the once overwhelming military supremacy of the Ottoman Empire. The outcome of battles was no longer a foregone conclusion and Europeans began to score victories against the Turks.

Despite military success of their territorial expansion, there remained problems of organization and government within the Ottoman Empire. Murad II attempted to limit the influence of the nobility and the gazi by elevating faithful former slaves and janissaries to administrative positions. These administrators came to provide an alternative voice to that of the nobility and, as a result, Murad II and successive Sultans were able to play one faction against the other, a feature that came to typify the Ottoman Empire. The power of the janissaries often overrode a weak sultan and the elite military force occasionally acted as “king-makers”.

Another weakness was that primogeniture was not used in Islam and the transference of power from a deceased sultan to his son was frequently disputed. If a sultan died without a male heir or if he left several sons, succession was violently contested. In the early period, to prevent ongoing rivalries, all male relatives of a newly crowned sultan were put to death. Later, however, the potential rivals were merely imprisoned for life. Some historians consider that this policy of imprisonment contributed to the decline of the Ottoman Empire as mentally unstable and politically inexperienced sultans were rescued from prison and placed upon the throne. Nevertheless, despite frequent disputes over succession, the Ottoman Empire managed to produce effective leaders in the late Middle Ages and a comprehensive government policy developed.

Despite the difficulties of succession and administrative control, the Ottomans had a number of advantages that contributed to their success, the enormous wealth of the Empire being the most significant asset. As the Ottoman Empire expanded, it acquired control of the trade routes to the East and many European powers, such as Venice and Genoa, paid great sums for the privilege of access to these routes.

Although the atrocities of the “Infidel Turk” struck fear into the hearts of all Christians in the late Middle Ages, in actuality, the Ottomans generally allowed religious groups to continue to practice their own faiths within the conquered territories. They also tended to preserve the established feudal institutions and, in many cases, permitted the co-existence of law codes to regulate the different ethnic and religious groups. Their administrative and governmental systems were well developed and highly effective and most lands under Ottoman control were well managed during this time.

Ottoman wars in Europe

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Military of the
Ottoman Empire
Army: Sipahi · Akıncı · Timariot · Janissary · Nizam-ı Cedid · Navy · Air Force
Conflicts: European · Near East · Byzantine · Polish · Croatian · Austrian · Russian · Serbian · Venetian · Sieges and landings · Battles · Cities conquered
See: Conscription · Reform · Naval treaties · Kaptan Pashas

Ottoman Empire at its maximum (1683)

The wars of the Ottoman Empire in Europe are also sometimes referred to as the Ottoman Wars or as Turkish Wars, particularly in older, European texts.

Rise (1299–1453)

See also: Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Military &
political history
Rise of the Ottoman Empire
Time span 154 years
# Sultans 8
Soc-econ Enlargement
See also Graphical timeline

After striking a blow to the weakened Byzantine Empire in 1356 (it is disputed that the year may have been 1358 due to a change in the Byzantine calendar), (see Suleyman Pasha) which provided it a basis for operations in Europe, the Ottoman Empire started its westward expansion into the European continent in the middle of the 14th century. Its first significant opponent was the young Serbian Empire, which was worn down by a series of campaigns, notably in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, in which the leaders of both armies were killed, and which gained a central role in Serbian folklore as an epic battle and beginning of bad luck for Serbia. The Ottoman Empire proceeded to conquer the lands of the Second Bulgarian Empire—the Southern half (Thrace) in 1371 (Battle of Maritsa), Sofia in 1382, the then capital Tarnovgrad in 1393, the northern rest after the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, except Vidin, which fell in 1422; Albania in 1385 (Battle of Savra) and again in 1480; Constantinople in 1453 after the Battle of Varna and Second Battle of Kosovo; Greece in 1460; Serbia by 1459 and (after partial Hungarian reconquest in 1480) again by 1499; Bosnia in 1463 (the Northwestern part only by 1527) and Herzegovina in 1482.[1][2]

Growth (1453–1683)

See also: Growth of the Ottoman Empire

Military &
political history
Growth of the Ottoman Empire
Time span 230 years
# Sultans 11
Soc-econ Enlargement
See also Graphical timeline

The defeat in 1456 at the Siege of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) held up Ottoman expansion into Catholic Europe for 70 years, though for one year (1480–1481) the Italian port of Otranto was taken, and in 1493 the Ottoman army successfully raided Croatia and Styria.[3]

Albanian Resistance

Main article: History of the Albanian-Turkish Wars

[show] v • d • eOttoman-Albanian wars
Before Skanderbeg
Campaigns of ArianitiSkanderbeg’s campaigns and battles
Torvioll1st MokraOtonetëAlbanian–Venetian War (1447–1448)1st OronikSfetigrad1st KrujëModricaPollogBerat2nd OronikUjëbardha2nd MokraMacedoniaGreat Macedonian RaidOhrid1st Vaikal2nd VaikalKashari2nd Krujë3rd KrujëAfter Skanderbeg’s death4th Krujë

The Ottomans faced fierce resistance from Albanian highlanders who gathered around their leader, Gjergj Kastrioti, the offspring of a feudal nobleman, and managed to fend off Ottoman attacks for more than 30 years. The Albanian struggle was one of the two remaining bastions of anti-Ottoman resistance in Eastern Europe after the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. It has been argued that their resilience halted the Ottoman advance along the Eastern flank of the Western Civilization, saving the Italian peninsula from Ottoman conquest. Sultan Mehmet II died in 1481, merely two years after the collapse of the Albanian resistance and one year after he launched the Italian campaign.

Bosnian Resistance

Ottoman Turks first reached Bosnia in 1388 where they were defeated by Bosnian forces in the Battle of Bileca and then were forced to retreat.[4] After the fall of Serbia in 1389, the Turks began various offensives against the Kingdom of Bosnia. The Bosnians defended themselves but without much success. The Bosnian Army participated in the Battle of Kosovo (Battle of the Field of Blackbirds) but the Ottoman Army was again victorious. Bosnians resisted strongly in the Bosnian Royal castle of Jajce, where the last Bosnian king Stjepan Tomašević tried to repel the Turks. The Ottoman invaders conquered Jajce after a few months, in 1463, and executed the last crowned Bosnian King. However, resistance continued throughout the country, mostly in the north and west, so that the Ottomans were only able to install their first administration, called Eyalet of Bosnia in 1527.

Croatian Resistance

Main article: Croatian-Ottoman Wars

After the fall of the Kingdom of Bosnia into the Ottoman hands in 1463, the southern and central parts of the Kingdom of Croatia remained unprotected, the defense of which was left to Croatian gentry who kept smaller troops in the fortified border areas at their own expense. The Ottomans meanwhile reached the river Neretva and having conquered Herzegovina (Rama) in 1482, they found their way toward Croatia, skillfully avoiding the fortified border towns. Decisive Ottoman victory at the Battle of Krbava field shook all the social strata in Croatia. However, it did not dissuade the Croats from making even more decisive and persistent attempts at defending themselves against the attacks of the much more superior enemy. After almost two hundred years of the Croatian fighting against the Ottoman Empire, the victory in the Battle of Sisak marked the end of the Ottoman invasions and Hundred Years’ Croatian-Ottoman War. The Viceroy’s army, chasing the Turks away from Petrinja in 1595, sealed the victory.

Occupation of Hungary

Main article: Ottoman–Hungarian Wars

[show] v • d • eOttoman–Hungarian Wars
Campaign of Louis I (1)TrevisoCampaign of Louis I (2)NicopolisDobojRadkersburgGolubacLower Danube WarSmederevoSzebenIron GateLong campaignNišVárnaKosovoNándorfehérvár (1456)VasluiBreadfieldKrbava fieldOtrantoMohács (1526)Campaign of 1527–28Little War (1530-52)KőszegBuda(1541)Campaign of 1543Eger (1552)SzigetvárKeresztesSaint GotthardVienna (1683)Buda (1686)Mohács (1687)SlankamenZentaPetrovaradinsee also:Ottoman–Habsburg wars

The Kingdom of Hungary, which at the time spanned the area from Croatia in the west to Transylvania in the east, was also gravely threatened by Ottoman advances. The origins of such a deterioration can be traced back to the fall of the Árpád ruling dynasty and their subsequent replacement with the Angevin and Jagiellonian kings. After a series of inconclusive wars over the course of 176 years, the kingdom finally crumbled in the Battle of Mohács of 1526, after which most of it was either occupied or brought under Ottoman suzerainty. (The 150-year Turkish Occupation, as it is called in Hungary, lasted until the late 1600s but parts of the Hungarian Kingdom were occupied from 1421 and until 1718.)

Serbian Resistance

[show] v • d • eMedieval Serbian-Turkish Wars
GallipoliStephanianaMaritsaDubravnicaSavraPločnikBilećaKosovo FieldTripoljeDespotovacVitosha PassNovo BrdoNišKruševacLeskovacSmederevoBelgrade

Main article: History of the Serbian-Turkish wars

As a result of heavy losses inflicted by the Ottomans in the Battle of Maritsa in 1371, the Serbian Empire had dissolved into many principalities. The battle preceded the later Battle of Kosovo in 1389, during which the Serbian forces were again annihilated. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, constant struggles took place between various Serbian kingdoms on the one hand, and the Ottoman Empire on the other. The turning point was the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. In 1459 following the siege, the “temporary” Serbian capital of Smederevo fell. Montenegro was overrun by 1499. Belgrade was the last major Balkan city to endure Ottoman onslaughts. Serbs, Hungarians and European crusaders heavily defeated the Turkish in the Siege of Belgrade of 1456. After repelling Ottoman attacks for over 70 years, Belgrade finally fell in 1521, along with the greater part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and Serbian Despotate finally fell in 1540, thus marking the Turkish occupation of all Serbian territories.

1463–1503: Wars with Venice

The wars with the Republic of Venice began in 1463, until a favorable peace treaty was signed in 1479. In 1480, now no longer hampered by the Venetian fleet, the Ottomans besieged Rhodes and captured Otranto.[5] War with Venice resumed from 1499 to 1503. In 1500, a Spanish-Venetian army commanded by Gonzalo de Córdoba took Kefalonia, temporarily stopping the Ottoman offensive on eastern Venetian territories.

1462–1483: Wallachian and Moldavian campaigns

In 1462, Mehmed II was driven back by Wallachian prince Vlad III Dracula at The Night Attack. However, the latter was imprisoned by Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus. This caused outrage among many influential Hungarian figures and Western admirers of Vlad’s success in the battle against the Ottoman Empire (and his early recognition of the threat it posed), including high-ranking members of the Vatican. Because of this, Matthias granted him the status of distinguished prisoner. Eventually, Dracula was freed in late 1475 and was sent with an army of Hungarian and Serbian soldiers to recover Bosnia from the Ottomans. He defeated Ottoman Forces and he gained his first victory against the Ottoman Empire. Upon this victory, Ottoman Forces entered Wallachia in 1476 under the command of Mehmed II.[clarification needed] During the war, Vlad was killed and, according to some sources, his head was sent to Constantinople to discourage the other rebellions.

The Turkish advance was temporary halted after Stephen the Great of Moldavia defeated the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II‘s armies at the Battle of Vaslui in 1475, which was one of the greatest defeats of the Ottoman empire until that time. Stephen was defeated at Războieni (Battle of Valea Albă) the next year, but the Ottomans had to retreat after they failed to take any significant castle (see siege of Cetatea Neamţului) as a plague started to spread in the Ottoman army. Stephen’s search for European assistance against the Turks met with little success, even though he had “cut off the pagan‘s right hand” – as he put it in a letter.

In 1482, Bosnia was completely added to Ottoman Lands. Bosnians did not complain about being under Ottoman Sovereignty because there was already a sectarian conflict going in Bosnia, and because Mehmed II gave converters to Islam a tax break.

1526–1566: Attack on Habsburg Empire

After the Mohács, only the southwestern part of the Hungarian Kingdom was actually conquered,[6] but the Ottoman campaign continued with small campaigns and major summer invasions (troops returned south of the Balkan Mountains before winter) through the land between 1526 and 1556. In 1529, they mounted their first major attack on the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy (with up to 300,000 troops in earlier accounts, 100,000 according to newer research[who?]), attempting to conquer the city of Vienna (Siege of Vienna). In 1532, another attack on Vienna with 60,000 troops in the main army was held up by the small fort (800 defenders) of Kőszeg in western Hungary, fighting a suicidal battle.[7] The invading troops were held up until winter was close and the Habsburg Empire had assembled a force of 80,000 at Vienna. The Ottoman troops returned home through Styria, laying waste to the country.

In the meantime, in 1538, the Ottoman Empire invaded Moldavia. In 1541, another campaign in Hungary took Buda and Pest (which today together form the Hungarian capital Budapest) with a largely bloodless trick: after concluding peace talks with an agreement, troops stormed the open gates of Buda in the night. In retaliation for a failed Austrian counter-attack in 1542, the conquest of the western half of central Hungary was finished in the 1543 campaign that took both the most important royal ex-capital, Székesfehérvár, and the ex-seat of the cardinal, Esztergom. However, the army of 35–40,000 men was not enough for Suleiman to mount another attack on Vienna. A temporary truce was signed between the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires in 1547, which was soon disregarded by the Habsburgs.

In the major but moderately successful campaign of 1552, two armies took the eastern part of central Hungary, pushing the borders of the Ottoman Empire to the second (inner) line of northern végvárs (border castles), which Hungary originally built as defence against an expected second Mongol invasion—hence, afterwards, borders on this front changed little. For Hungarians, the 1552 campaign was a series of tragic losses and some heroic (but pyrrhic) victories, which entered folklore—most notably the fall of Drégely (a small fort defended to the last man by just 146 men[8]), and the Siege of Eger. The latter was a major végvár with more than 2,000 men, but in poor shape and without outside help. They faced two Ottoman armies (150,000 troops by earlier accounts, 60-75,000 men according to newer research[who?]), which were unable to take the castle within five weeks. (The fort was later taken in 1596.) Finally, the 1556 campaign secured Ottoman influence over Transylvania (which had fallen under Habsburg control for a time), while failing to gain any ground on the western front, being tied down in the second (after 1555) unsuccessful siege of the southwestern Hungarian border castle of Szigetvár.

The Ottoman Empire conducted another major war against the Habsburgs and their Hungarian territories between 1566 and 1568. The 1566 Battle of Szigetvar, the third siege in which the fort was finally taken, but the aged Sultan died, deterring that year’s push for Vienna.

1522–1573: Rhodes, Malta and the Holy League

This section requires expansion.

Ottoman forces invaded and captured the island of Rhodes in 1522, after two previous failed attempts (see Siege of Rhodes).[9] The Knights of Rhodes were banished to Malta, which was in turn besieged in 1565.

After three months of intense fighting, pitting an Ottoman army of around 65,000 against 2,000 Maltese and 500 Knights, the Ottomans failed to conquer Malta, sustaining very heavy losses, including one of the greatest Muslim corsair generals of the time, Dragut and were repulsed. Had Malta fallen, Sicily and mainland Italy could have fallen under the threat of an Ottoman Invasion. The victory of Malta during this event, which is nowadays known as the Great Siege of Malta, turned the tide and stopped the westward expansion of the Ottoman Empire. It also marked the importance of the Knights of Saint John and their relevant presence in Malta to aid Christendom in its defence against the Muslim conquest.

Malta was the first defeat of two suffered by Suleiman the Magnificent, the greatest Sultan of the Ottomans.

The Ottoman naval victories of this period were in the Battle of Preveza (1538) and the Battle of Djerba (1560).

The Mediterranean campaign, which lasted from 1570 to 1573, resulted by the Ottoman invasion and occupation of Cyprus. A Holy League of Venice, the Papal States, Spain, the Knights of Saint John in Malta and initially Portugal was formed against the Ottoman Empire during this period. The League’s victory in the Battle of Lepanto (1571) ended Ottoman predominance at sea.

1593–1669: Austria,Venice and Wallachia

This section requires expansion.

Turkish Empire, drawn by Hondius, just at the end of the Long War, 1606

1620-1621: Poland

Main article: Polish-Ottoman War (1620–1621)

Main article: Polish-Ottoman War (1633–1634)

Was fought over Moldavia. The Polish army advanced into Moldavia and was defeated in the Battle of Ţuţora. The Next year, the Poles repelled the Turkish invasion in the Battle of Khotyn. Another conflict started in 1633 but was soon settled.

1657–1683 Conclusion of Wars with Habsburgs

In 1657, Transylvania, the Eastern part of the former Hungarian Kingdom that after 1526 gained semi-independence while paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire, felt strong enough to attack the Tatars (then the Empire’s vassals) to the East, and later the Ottoman Empire itself, that came to the Tatars’ defence. The war lasted until 1662, ending in defeat for the Hungarians. The Western part of the Hungarian Kingdom (Partium) was annexed and placed under direct Ottoman control, marking the greatest territorial extent of Ottoman rule in the former Hungarian Kingdom. At the same time, there was another campaign against Austria between 1663 and 1664. However, the Turks were defeated in the Battle of Saint Gotthard on 1 August 1664 by Raimondo Montecuccoli, forcing them to enter the Peace of Vasvár with Austria, which held until 1683.[10]

1672–1676: Poland

Main article: Polish-Ottoman War (1672–1676)

A year after Poland beat back a Tatar invasion, war with Poland 1672–1676, Jan Sobieski distinguishes himself and becomes the King of Poland.

1683–1699: Great Turkish War – Loss of Hungary and the Morea

John III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna.

The Great Turkish War started in 1683, with a grand invasion force of 140,000 men[11] marching on Vienna, supported by Hungarian noblemen rebelling against Habsburg rule. To stop the invasion, another Holy League was formed, composed of Austria and Poland (notably in the Battle of Vienna), Venetians and the Russian Empire. After winning the Battle of Vienna, the Holy League gained the upper hand, and conducted the re-conquest of Hungary (Buda and Pest were retaken in 1686, the former under the command of a Swiss-born convert to Islam). At the same time, the Venetians launched an expedition into Greece, which conquered the Peloponnese. During the 1687 Venetian attack on the city of Athens (occupied by the Ottomans), the Ottomans turned the ancient Parthenon into an ammunitions storehouse. A German mortar hit the Parthenon, detonating the Ottoman gunpowder stored inside and partially destroying it.[12]

The war ended with the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. Prince Eugene of Savoy first distinguished himself in 1683 and remained the most important Austrian commander until 1718.[13][14]

Stagnation (1699–1827)

See also: Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire

Military &
political history
Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire
Time span 133 years
# Sultans 11
See also Graphical timeline

[edit] 1700s

This section requires expansion.

The second Russo-Turkish War took place 1710–1711 near Prut. It was instigated by Charles XII of Sweden after the defeat at the Battle of Poltava, in order to tie down Russia with the Ottoman Empire and gain some breathing space in the increasingly unsuccessful Great Northern War. The Russians were severely beaten but not annihilated, and after the Treaty of Prut was signed the Ottoman Empire disengaged, allowing Russia to refocus its energies on the defeat of Sweden.

Another war with Austria and Venice started in 1714. Austria conquered the remaining areas of the former Hungarian Kingdom, ending with the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718.

Another war with Russia started in 1735. The Austrians joined in 1737; the war ended in 1739 with the Treaty of Belgrade (with Austria) and the Treaty of Niš (with Russia).

The fourth Russo-Turkish started in 1768 and ended in 1774 with the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji.

Yet another war with Russia and Austria started in 1787; it ended by Austria with the 1791 Treaty of Sistova, and with the 1792 Treaty of Jassy with Russia.

An invasion of Egypt and Syria by Napoleon I of France took place in 1798–99, but ended due to British intervention.

Napoleon’s capture of Malta on his way to Egypt resulted in the unusual alliance of Russia and the Ottomans resulting in a joint naval expedition to the Ionian Islands. Their successful capture of these islands led to the setting up of the Septinsular Republic.


This section requires expansion.
[show] v • d • eRusso-Ottoman Wars
1568–1570 · 1571–1572 · 1676–1681 · 1686–1700 · 1687–1689 · 1695–1696 · Great Northern War · 1710–1711 · 1735–1739 · 1768–1774 · 1787–1792 · 1806–1812 · 1828–1829 · 1853–1856 (Crimean War) · 1877–1878 · 1914–1918 (World War I) ·

The First Serbian Uprising took place in 1804, followed by the Second Serbian Uprising in 1815; Serbia was fully liberated by 1867. Officially recognized independence followed in 1878.

The sixth Russo-Turkish War began in 1806 and ended in 1812 due to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

[show] v • d • eGreek War of Independence
AlamanaGraviaValtetsiDolianaDragashaniSkuleniVassilikaTripoliChiosPetaDervenakia1st MessolonghiKarpenisiPsaraSamosGerontasSphacteriaManiakiMills of Lerna3rd MessolonghiManiArachovaKamateroPhaleronNavarinoPetra

Moldavian-Wallachian (Romanian) Uprising (starting simultaneously with the Greek Revolution).

The Greek War of Independence, taking place from 1821 to 1832, in which the Great Powers intervened from 1827, including Russia (seventh Russo–Turkish war, 1828–1829), achieved independence for Greece; the Treaty of Adrianople ended the war.

Decline (1828–1908)

See also: Decline of the Ottoman Empire

Military &
political history
Decline of the Ottoman Empire
Time span 82 years
# Sultans 5
Soc-econ Reformation
See also Graphical timeline

Wars with Bosnia 1831–1836, 1836–1837, 1841.

War with Montenegro 1852–1853.

Eighth Russo-Turkish war 1853–1856, Crimean War, in which the United Kingdom and France joined the war on the side of the Ottoman Empire. Ended with the Treaty of Paris.

Second war with Montenegro in 1858–1859.

War with Montenegro, Bosnia and Serbia in 1862.

Cretan Uprising in 1866.

Bulgarian Rebellion in 1876.

The ninth and final Russo–Turkish war started in 1877, the same year the Ottomans withdrew from the Conference of Constantinople. Romania then declared its independence and waged war on Turkey, joined by Serbians and Bulgarians and finally the Russians (see also Russian Foreign Affairs after the Crimean War). Bosnia was occupied by Austria in 1878. The Russians and the Ottomans signed the Treaty of San Stefano in early 1878. After deliberations at the Congress of Berlin, which was attended by all the Great Powers of the time, the Treaty of Berlin, 1878 recognized several territorial changes.

Eastern Rumelia was granted some autonomy in 1878, rebelled in 1885 and joined Bulgaria in 1886. Thessalia ceded to Greece in 1881, but after Greece attacked the Ottoman Empire to help the Second Cretan Uprising in 1897, Greece was broken in Thessalia.

Dissolution (1908–1922)

See also: Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire

Military &
political history
Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire
Time span 14 years
# Sultans 2
Soc-econ Reformation
See also Graphical timeline

Public demonstration in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, 1908

This section requires expansion.


Bulgarian insurrection from 1903.

1912-1913: Balkan Wars

Two Balkan Wars, in 1912 and 1913, involved further action against the Ottoman Empire in Europe. The Balkan League first conquered Macedonia and most of Thrace from the Ottoman Empire, and then fell out over the division of the spoils. Albania also declared independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, after several rebellions and uprisings. This reduced Turkey’s possessions in Europe (Rumelia) to their present borders in Eastern Thrace.

World War I