The Means of Destruction: How the Ottoman Empire Finally Ended the Byzantine Empire
By Benjamin Donovan
Northerner Historical Review, Vol.1 (2013)
Introduction: The year 1453 brought with its passing two of the most important historical events of the early modern period: the end of the 100 Years War, and the Conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks. While both events had a drastic effect on Europe, the Ottoman’s conquest arguably had a greater effect in Eastern Europe, since the Ottoman Turks dominated the diplomatic efforts of the states there for the greater part of the next 200 years. However, no European had any reason to believe that the Ottomans would capture Constantinople, since they had tried two times previously and had failed in both of those attempts. Despite those failures, many factors contributed to significant changes within the Ottoman State that put them in a position to effectively assault the city, and thus establish themselves as an empire worthy of recognition by Europeans. The Ottomans conquered Constantinople and ended the Byzantine Empire by military conquests and diplomatic treaties by Mehmet II’s predecessors Bayezid I and Murat II. In addition, Mehmet II’s desire to prove himself an adequate leader plus western influences on Ottoman military technology and improvements on more traditional Ottoman tactics meant that the Byzantine Empire was brought to its knees.
Bayezid I (r. 1389-1402) and his military actions had a profound impact on the later Ottoman conquest of Constantinople since he launched the first Ottoman siege of the city. Bayezid made an earnest attempt to conquer the city, instigating both an eight-year siege and an eight-year blockade of Constantinople in an attempt to bring the rebellious Emperor Manuel II back into submission. Although the Ottoman Empire under Bayezid did not have the proper means to capture the city his siege still has relevance because it instilled a general desire in succeeding Ottoman sultans to conquer the city and make good on Bayezid’s adoption of the title Sultan of Rum, or Rome and hence overlord of Byzantium. Bayezid’s siege also failed because he advanced so rapidly into Europe and then to Constantinople that, “King Sigismund of Hungary led the call for a crusade against the Turks. A Christian army of nearly 100,000 mustered at Buda in July 1396 under the leadership of Sigismund… headed down along the Danube valley to Nicopolis, where they put the Turkish-occupied fortress under siege.” This displays another problem for Ottoman sultans before Mehmet II. Powerful foreign entities drew the Sultan’s attention from the main siege effort by their actions. While Bayezid did manage to defeat Sigismund’s army at Nicopolis, the invasion seriously hindered his siege of Constantinople. However, the intrusions of foreign powers continually distracted Bayezid from the siege and ultimately forced him to abandon it. Bayezid’s efforts against his European enemies directly influenced Mehmet II’s decisions when he attacked Constantinople. The siege established the belief Constantinople constituted part of the Sultan’s birthright and also highlighted important Ottoman weaknesses.